A “pinched nerve” refers to a condition in which a nerve is compressed by surrounding tissue, such as ligament, cartilage, tendon or bone. Nerve compression itself is quite rare compared to the more common nerve irritation or inflammation that produces similar signs and symptoms although perhaps less intense.
Nerves radiate electrical signals from your brain, down your spine and to all other parts of the body. If a nerve is compressed (“pinched”) or the nerve tissue irritated, it will interfere with proper signal transmission, manifesting symptomatically as pain, not only at the site of compression, but often radiating further along to the various structures that surround and are electrically supplied by the nerve. Misalignment of the spine can result in poor nerve health that can give you back pain and even a deadening ache or sensitivity along your arms (cervical radiculopathy) or legs (sciatica).
Pain is a warning signal that there is a problem that should be properly diagnosed and treated right away. Left untreated, pinched nerves can lead to a loss of the protective barrier around the nerves that may lead to fluid buildup creating swelling, more pressure, more pain, and possibly scarring. When nerves have been scarred, they may no longer function properly.
Pain isn’t the only indication of a poor nerve function, sometimes a compressed or irritated nerve will generate numbness or tingling, a burning or “pins and needles” sensation, or even result in muscle weakness with or without pain.
Risk factors involved for poor nerve function include:
- Overuse—Repetitive actions such as movements during work or while involved in a hobby or sport.
- Posture—Bad posture creates more pressure on the spine and the nerves traveling through it.
- Gender—Women’s carpal tunnels are smaller and are at greater risk for carpal tunnel syndrome causing pain in the hands.
- Rheumatoid arthritis—Inflammation of any kind can compress nerves, especially at the joints.
- Obesity—Increased body weight can increase pressure on nerves throughout the body.
- Bone spurs—Bone thickening (from conditions such as osteoarthritis) or trauma can lead to bone spurs that stiffen the spine and narrow the space through which the nerves pass.
NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), oral corticosteroids, narcotics (for emergency, short-term pain relief), steroid injections, physical therapy, splinting and surgery are medical options for the treatment of nerve pain. The Mayo Clinic suggests that patients can sometimes recover within a few days or weeks from pinched nerves with rest and additional “conservative treatments.”
Chiropractic adjustments restore nerve function by increasing specific joint mechanoreceptor input into the spine that subsequently stimulates a variety of neural pathways in the spinal cord and brain. These increase endorphin release in the brain providing a sense of symptom relief and stimulating natural anti-inflammatory mechanisms in the body. If you or someone you care about is suffering from a pinched nerve, you should know that there are alternatives to drugs and surgery, and that chiropractic care has proven to be a viable and effective option for the diagnosis and treatment of the problem.