Pinched Nerve Symptoms in Neck or Back

What is a Pinched Nerve?

Pinched nerve is a non-medical term that refers to pressure put on a nerve by soft tissue, bone, or a herniated disc. Long nerves that come off the main spinal cord to travel through the body can be affected. These are known as peripheral nerves.

They can also be a part of the central nervous system. A herniated disc that puts pressure on the spinal canal is the most common example of a pinched nerve in the central nervous system.

This article explains the different names for pinched nerves, symptoms, and treatment options.

A Pinched Nerve by Any Other Name Is...

Pinched nerve has several names, some officially medical and others not. These include nerve compression, nerve impingement, and nerve entrapment. It can also be called nerve encroachment, radiculopathy, and/or sciatica. These names don’t all mean the same thing, and each is medically correct in certain ways.

Nerve impingement or nerve entrapment occurs when one single nerve is compressed. This takes place in the peripheral nervous system.

Nerve root encroachment is when the space where nerves pass through is crowded. This crowding may be caused by spinal stenosis, herniated disc, or other condition.

Spinal stenosis is when the bony openings in the spine start to narrow so there is less space for nerves.

Radiculopathy causes pain and nerve symptoms because a spinal nerve root touches something it should not. These include a disc, bone spur, or other spinal structure.

Symptoms of radiculopathy go down either an arm or a leg. If you have a herniated disc in your neck, you'll feel the pain down one arm.

Sciatica is describes pain and electrical sensations that go down your leg. Sciatica is used by many people to describe similar conditions, including radiculopathy.

Recap

Pinched nerve refers to pressure placed on a nerve by something inside the body. This may be soft tissue or bone. There are several other names that people use to describe pinched nerves and each of them is correct in certain ways.

Pinched Nerve Symptoms

Symptoms of a pinched neck nerve
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin 

Symptoms of a pinched nerve include pain and/or electrical sensations. They may also include weakness, numbness, dull ache, or pins and needles. The symptoms depend on the cause and location.

There is one common, but mild, symptom of a pinched nerve in your neck. You may wake up with a stiff neck after sleeping in an awkward position.

A compressed or entrapped nerve may not allow you to function fully.

This is why you should see your healthcare provider or physical therapist when you notice symptoms. Pinched nerves can cause permanent damage after a long time without treatment.

The good news is that if you treat a pinched nerve early, the function will likely improve.

Pinched nerve symptoms can also come from injury, repetitive movement, and arthritis. Long-term, poor posture habits also add to pinched nerve problems.

Recap

Pinched nerves may cause pain, weakness, numbness, aches, and pins and needles. It may be hard to function normally. This is why it's so important to see your healthcare provider right away if you experience these symptoms. Early treatment is the best way to get the nerve to function correctly again.

Treatment for Pinched Nerve

Pinched nerves usually get better without surgery. Some don't require treatment at all.

Common treatments include pain medications, injections, and exercise. Some people wear a collar for a pinched nerve in the neck and others need physical therapy. 

A new type of treatment that physical therapists use is neural mobilization or neurodynamics. This uses movements that help bring the nerves back to the right position with the structures around them. This helps with pain and other symptoms.

A September 2017 review found that neural mobilization decreased low back pain and disability. It also increased functioning in people with chronic low back pain.

Summary

Pinched nerves can be very painful depending on the type and location in the body. Feelings of weakness, numbness, aches, and electrical sensations might mean a nerve is irritated. If the pain goes down one arm or leg, it will help to show the healthcare provider where the pain started. Early treatment is possible with medication, injections, exercise, or physical therapy. This gives someone the best chance of fully functioning again.

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