Treatment for a Pinched Nerve

How to Treat a Painful Compressed Nerve in Your Neck

Head and neck pain can be caused by a pinched nerve in your neck. The formal name for this condition is cervical radiculopathy.

There are a few simple treatments for a pinched nerve. If these don't work, your healthcare provider may consider more aggressive options.

This article looks at how a pinched nerve is diagnosed and treated.

pinched neck nerve symptoms

Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Pinched Nerve Diagnosis

When you have radicular pain in your neck, your healthcare provider will first look for red flags that could point to other more serious conditions. These include:

  • Difficulty walking or leg weakness
  • Bowel or bladder problems
  • History of fever, weight loss, cancer, or a weakened immune system
  • Age younger than 20 or older than 50
  • Severe, sudden onset of pain, which could point to a tear in the cervical artery, a large artery in the neck
  • Other neurological signs like difficulty speaking or swallowing, which could indicate a stroke

If any danger signs are present, your healthcare provider will order additional tests. You may need a blood test or you may be sent for imaging of your head and/or neck. In some cases, you may be referred to a specialist or sent to the emergency room. This will depend on what condition your healthcare provider suspects and how urgent it is.

Recap

To diagnose a pinched nerve, your provider will try to rule out other causes of head and neck pain. They may need to refer you to a specialist and/or do imaging or other testing.

Conservative Management for a Pinched Nerve

If your healthcare provider diagnoses a pinched nerve, you may be prescribed "conservative management." Conservative management refers to non-invasive ways to ease your discomfort. This will give your nerve irritation and compression time to resolve.

Usually, you will receive a combination of medication and physical therapy. This treatment typically lasts for two to eight weeks.

Medications that may be prescribed for pain include:

During this time, avoid activities that make your pain worse. But you'll also need to avoid staying in bed for long periods of time. Inactivity can delay your recovery. If you can, continue your daily routine but limit activities that are uncomfortable.

Once medication starts to improve the pain, you can start physical therapy. It will help you retain neck range of motion and strengthen your neck, back, and shoulder muscles. Your healthcare provider may also recommend using a cervical collar or pillow. Another possible therapy is a stretching exercise called cervical traction.

Recap

Most pinched nerves can be treated at home with conservative management. This usually includes a combination of pain medication and physical therapy.

When Pinched Nerve Symptoms Do Not Go Away

If you still have pinched nerve symptoms after six to 12 weeks of conservative management, see your healthcare provider. The diagnosis may need to be re-evaluated.

You may need an MRI or CT scan of your upper spine. A nerve conduction study (NCS) and electromyography (EMG) can also help find the source of your pain. These tests use electrodes to track the electrical signals in your muscles and nerves. Sometimes, the diagnosis is more complex and requires the care of a spine specialist. 

If your symptoms don't resolve after conservative management, other treatment options are available. An epidural nerve block, for example, can help ease the pain. During this treatment, a steroid is injected into a space near the spine. It spreads out over the affected nerve root, easing the pain.

Surgery might be an option if your pain is not improving, you're experiencing worsening weakness (such as difficulty lifting your arm), and/or imaging tests show that your spinal cord is affected.

Discuss the need for surgery carefully with your healthcare provider. It is important to make sure the benefits outweigh any potential harms before moving forward with this procedure. 

Recap

If you still have pain after six to 12 weeks or you have worsening weakness, you may need further evaluation. Your healthcare provider can help you decide if surgery is the right choice for you.

Summary

Head and neck pain can have a number of causes. Your healthcare provider will want to rule out more serious problems like stroke before diagnosing a pinched nerve.

If you do have a pinched nerve, the first line of treatment is usually a combination of pain medication and physical therapy. If your pain is still present after six to 12 weeks, you may need to be re-evaluated. Imaging tests can help confirm other conditions, or you may need an epidural nerve block or surgery.

A Word From Verywell

The good news is that most people with a pinched nerve recover with conservative management. Some do have recurrences, however, and need to repeat their course of medication and/or physical therapy.

Make sure to review your diagnosis and treatment plan with your healthcare provider. This will help make sure you get the maximum healing and comfort during your recovery.

Was this page helpful?
2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Iyer S, Kim HJ. Cervical radiculopathy. Curr Rev Musculoskelet Med. 2016;9(3):272-80. doi:10.1007/s12178-016-9349-4

  2. Childress M, Becker BA. Nonoperative management of cervical radiculopathy. Am Fam Physician. 2016;93(9):746-54.

Additional Reading