Pinched Nerve – Causes, Treatment of Nerve Compression

A pinched nerve, also known as nerve compression or entrapment, is a result of pressure on a nerve by surrounding structures like the muscles, tendons, ligaments, bone or cartilage. The pressure on the nerve disrupts its normal functioning and this is often experienced as a disturbance in sensation or a disruption in movement of the affected area, or along the course of the nerve.

Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve

Nerves transmit impulses between the brain and spinal cord and other parts of the body. When its normal functioning is affected, the signs and symptoms present usually related to its various functions. These symptoms may include :

  • Pain, either at the point of the compression, along the course of the nerve or at the site which is supplied by the nerve.
  • Tingling and numbness
  • “Pins and needles”
  • Burning sensation
  • Muscle weakness or twitching

In many cases, these symptoms are only temporary and if the cause of the nerve compression resolves spontaneously, the symptoms will quickly subside without any treatment.

Causes of a Pinched Nerve

A pinched nerve is often thought to only affect the nerves emanating from the spinal cord but just about any nerve can be affected by compression or entrapment. Conditions like tennis elbow or carpal tunnel syndrome are other examples of a pinched nerve, not resulting from compression of a spinal nerve. These types of pinched nerve often result from injury or inflammation due to work related activities, sports and repeated strenuous activity.

In terms of the back, a pinched nerve often occurs when a spinal nerve exits from the spinal cord through the vertebrae that make up the spinal columns. This is often caused by the intervertebral disc which is a spongy cushion that lies between individual vertebrae. When the disc bulges or herniates, it presses against a nerve causing the symptoms of a pinched nerve. However other conditions affecting the vertebral column may also cause a pinched nerve and these include :

  • herniated or bulging intervertebral disc
  • degenerative intervertebral disc
  • cervical spondylosis, often the result of osteoarthritis
  • spinal stenosis which causes narrowing of the spinal column

Diagnosis of a Pinched Nerve

In order to confirm the diagnosis of a pinched nerve, you should consult with a neurologist who may perform one of the following tests :

  • MRI or CT Scan
  • Nerve Conduction Study
  • Electromyography (EMG)

Treatment of a Pinched Nerve

Conservative treatment may involve physiotherapy or chiropractic treatment with rest, reduced activity, and the use of a brace to immobilise the affected area. If necessary, drugs may have to be used and these include non-steroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAID’s) or corticosteroid injections at the affected area. In severe cases, which do not respond to conservative measures or drugs, surgery may be necessary. Surgery usually aims at reducing the pressure on the nerve.