Diagnosis and Treatment:
A pinched, or compressed, nerve is an uncomfortable condition that occurs when too much pressure disrupts the natural function of the nerve. The unnatural pressure causes the nerve to become inflamed and produces a number of unpleasant symptoms.
Symptoms of a pinched nerve range from numbness to sharp, aching, pains radiating in the affected area. Muscle weakness, tingling, or feeling as if the foot or hand has “fallen asleep” are also signs that can help point in the direction of a pinched nerve as a diagnosis. If a pinched nerve is suspected, head to the doctor immediately for a confirmation. Most of the time pinched nerves are mild annoyances and will clear up on their own with rest and over the counter pain relievers. Other times, the condition can worsen and become permanent or require surgery if left untreated. Proper diagnosis and treatment are a must.
What conditions produce pinched nerves?
The cause of the problem is different in every case. In some situations, the pressure is caused by tissue, such as bone or cartilage. This is most likely the case seen in a herniated spinal disc that compresses a nerve root. In other situations, muscles or tendons may be the culprits. Occasionally, repetitive motions will cause carpal tunnel
syndrome and may be responsible for a pinched nerve as well. Past injury, poor posture, arthritis, diabetes, pregnancy, heredity, repetitive work, sports or obesity can all play a role as well.
A doctor will likely ask the patient a number of questions in regards to the symptoms. Patients should be prepared to discuss how long they have been dealing with the problem and if there are certain activities that seem to trigger the symptoms. The doctor may also inquire about any repetitive work that may be the cause or if any activities or positions that seem to relieve the discomfort.
How do we determine the source of your pinched nerve?
If a pinched nerve is the suspect, the doctor will likely order several tests to confirm the diagnosis. A nerve conduction study is used to gauge if electrical impulses are functioning properly in the nerves and muscles. Electrodes are placed on the skin by a specialist and a small current is sent through the nerve providing the doctor with information on the nerve signals. This test will be able to inform the doctor of any nerve damage that may be causing the symptoms.
Another test that may be used is Electromyography, or EMG. During this test, a needle electrode is inserted into various muscles. The test measures the electrical activity of the muscles when they are at use and at rest. If there is damage to the nerves leading to the muscle, this test will confirm that as the cause of compression on the nerve.
Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, may be used if the doctor suspects that there is a nerve root compression. The MRI involves a powerful magnetic field and radio waves that provide a detailed image of the body’s soft tissues. The tissues will be illuminated, allowing doctors to detect abnormalities like a herniated disc or a bulging disc that may be the root cause of the symptoms.
What are some of the available treatments for pinched nerves?
If the suspected pinched nerve is confirmed, the doctor will most often start by prescribing rest for the area affected. Mild, over the counter pain medications may be used to help minimize pain and inflammation as well. In more serious cases, prescribed oral Corticosteroids, steroid injections, or narcotics may be beneficial.
If the cause was determined to be due to repetitive activity, the doctor will likely require those activities be stopped so as to not aggravate the condition. In some cases a splint may also be suggested in order to immobilize the area that has been affected by the compressed nerve. Physical therapy may also help stretch and strengthen the muscles that are putting pressure on the nerve.
As a last resort, doctors may need to recommend surgery to eliminate the pressure on the nerve. In these cases, scar tissue, disc material or pieces of bone need to be removed in order for the patient to feel relief. The surgery recommendations will vary based on the location of the pinched nerve and the root cause of the problem.
Pinched or compressed nerves are a common, and most often treatable problem.
Preventative measures such as using good posture, maintaining a healthy weight, and attempting to avoid, or at least limiting, repetitive activities may make all the difference in avoiding such issues. If a pinched nerve is suspected, patients should be sure to visit their doctor for a clear diagnosis so that treatments can be started early to help avoid long-term, or possibly, permanent pain.