Understanding Pinched Nerves


Understanding Pinched Nerves

What causes a pinched nerve?


Generally, a “pinched” nerve results from compression or pressure on a nerve root (the part of the nerve closest to the spinal cord) caused from surrounding structures such as bone, soft tissue such as discs or space occupying fluid (swelling/inflammation).  


What are the symptoms of a pinched nerve?

Common symptoms resulting from a pinched nerve can include any or all of the following:

- local spine pain  (most often neck or low back)
- pain that travels (radiates)
- loss of skin sensation (numbness)
- weakness in the arms or legs
- tingling or a “shocking” feeling


What are the risk factors associated with pinched nerves?

- Poor posture – especially over long periods of time with activities such as sitting or bending forward
- Bone spurs – this is a bony growth close to the nerve that can decrease the amount of space in the nerve pathway (commonly known as osteophytes).
- Overuse activities – repetitive motion/stress  can cause inflammation and increase pressure on a  nerve
- Weight changes – Excess weight increases the load on many of your bodies structures and can increase pressure on nerves
- Pregnancy –Water retention, weight gain and loosening of the ligaments associated with pregnancy can swell nerve pathways, increasing pressure on nerves. 

How can I treat a pinched nerve? 

The most common treatment for a pinched nerve is rest.  The goal is to reduce or eliminate the activity that is causing the compression or irritation to the neck or back.  Rest alone, however, may not lead to an immediate reduction in symptoms.  Proper exercise prescription and activity modification can help in reducing symptoms and facilitate healing much faster than rest alone.  In most cases, Physical Therapy can be helpful to help identify activities that might be aggravating symptoms and to choose the correct combination, frequency and duration of exercises.  In addition, “loosening” muscles and joints up with manual therapy can help alleviate some of the mechanical pressure on the affected body part.


Anti-inflammatory medication or corticosteroids may be prescribed by your physician to decrease pain and inflammation. In some instances surgery may be necessary, but most cases resolve with more conservative care.


I have a pain shooting down my leg… Is that a pinched nerve?
Sciatica is a common culprit in shooting leg symptoms. When the sciatic nerve (located in the low portion of the spine) is compressed or irritated, symptoms can travel from the low back through the buttocks, back of the upper thigh, lower leg, and foot. They generally occur in one leg but can occasionally jump from side to side.


On occasion my fingers go numb… could this be a pinched nerve?
Yes, but you may be experiencing symptoms from another pressure point such as in the condition known as carpal tunnel syndrome. When nerves in your wrist are compressed, symptoms can be felt into the hand and fingers.  These symptoms could be the same as if they were coming from a pinched nerve in your neck so proper physical examination by a qualified clinician is crucial in determining the source of your pain.


My shoulder really hurts, but I don’t remember doing anything to it…can a pinched nerve cause shoulder pain?
Yes, in fact many symptoms in the shoulder, arms, back of the thigh and calf, could be caused by pinched nerves in your neck or low back.  If you are experiencing symptoms in your arms or legs and cannot recall a specific reason, this could be the result of a pinched nerve. Another tell tale sign is when you get arm or leg pain at rest because usually, with a muscle or tendon problem, the symptoms are better at rest and worse with activity.


When should I seek help?

Seek the help from your physical therapist or physician if signs and symptoms of a pinched nerve continue for more than a few days without relief through self care measures.  Waiting too long could lead to a prolonged recovery and prevent you from doing the things you most enjoy! To find a ProEx physical therapist to help you with your pinched nerve, click here http://proexpt.com/content.php?l=66 

Understanding Pinched Nerves