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Pinched Nerve: What Causes It and How Do You Treat It?

When something shifts in your body and results in a bone, cartilage, muscle or tendon placing too much pressure on a nerve, you can end up feeling pain, tingling or numbness.

This is called a “pinched nerve,” and you might have suffered one without knowing what it is.  Here’s what you need to know if you suspect you have a pinched nerve.

What Causes a Pinched Nerve

We tend to think a pinched nerve happens only in the back, but the reality is that you can have a pinched nerve anywhere in your body, and it can be the result of several causes, including:

  • Bulging disc
  • Herniation
  • Arthritis in the back that causes bones to get larger
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Instability of the spine, pushing one vertebrae a little forward
  • Inflammation stemming from various causes

Don’t Put Off Treatment

You might think you have sciatica if you experience shooting pain down your leg. But if you feel the need to lean to one side, you might be doing this to create space where a pinched nerve is. Not all leg pain is from the sciatic nerve being compressed. It could be stemming from your back, which is called lumbar radiculopathy. If it is originating from your neck, it is called cervical radiculopathy. Seeking treatment sooner could increase your quality of life.

For half of the people with a pinched nerve, the condition resolves itself within one to two weeks. And about 90 percent of people who experience a pinched nerve will get better within six to 12 weeks. But those weeks or months can be incredibly painful, depending on the severity of the injury. If the discomfort is too great for you to be able to work, you may want to see a doctor.

Your doctor will likely start you on a nerve pain medicine to help you tolerate the pain until a next treatment option can be decided upon.

One of the most effective treatment options your doctor will suggest is a corticosteroid injection, which reduces the inflammation significantly faster than it would on its own. Typically, the steroid starts reducing inflammation in three days.

Surgery Is an Option

If medication and corticosteroid injection do not help or if these treatments cause weakness, the next option may be surgery. A procedure such as a microdiscectomy, performed by a neurosurgeon, may be required if the pinched nerve is caused by a herniated or ruptured disc. Sometimes a more invasive procedure, such as a fusion or decompression, might be necessary.

To find out the best treatment, your doctor likely will order an electromyography nerve conduction study, aka an EMG - NCS, to diagnose what is happening in your body. This is a way to test the electrical activity in the nerves to determine the site of the blockage or injury.

Physical Therapy for Pinched Nerve

After any course of treatment for a pinched nerve, your doctor may suggest physical therapy. Your physical therapy process will likely target your back muscles and core, and can include several components, including:

  • Teaching you the right way to move, such as picking things up properly.
  • Showing you how to stretch out your spine relying on your muscles.
  • Creating a home exercise program.

As with any physical therapy or exercise regimen, sticking with the exercises is the best way to stay healthy and prevent future injuries.

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