What is pinched nerve? Causes and prevention

Pinched nerve can be caused by inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.

Pinched nerve can be caused by inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

What you need to know:

  • A pinched nerve occurs when there is compression or pressure on a nerve.
  • The treatment for a pinched nerve depends on the cause of the pressure on the nerve.
  • A pinched nerve can cause various symptoms that range from mild to severe.

If you are like most people, you probably do not think about your spinal cord until something goes wrong. And when something does go wrong, it is mostly a big problem - like a pinched nerve. A pinched nerve can cause pain, numbness, and tingling in the affected area. In some cases, it can lead to paralysis. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, seek medical help right away.

What is a pinched nerve?

Nerves are important for the body to function properly. They allow one to feel touch, pain, and temperature. They also aid in muscles movement.

A pinched nerve occurs when there is compression or pressure on a nerve. This can happen for a number of reasons, including injury, inflammation, or bone spur. When pressure is applied to the nerve, it can cause the nerve to become irritated and inflamed.

Pinched nerves can affect various parts of the body. A pinched nerve in the lower back can cause pain in the buttocks, thighs, and legs. This is known as sciatica. A pinched nerve in the neck can cause pain in the shoulders, arms, and hands. This is known as cervical radiculopathy. Thoracic radiculopathy is caused by a pinched nerve in the upper back and can cause pain in the chest.

The common areas likely to get a pinched nerve are:

  • The neck
  • The lower back
  • The shoulder
  • The elbow
  • The wrist
  • Upper chest

Symptoms associated with a pinched nerve

There are a number of warning signs of a pinched nerve. These include:

  • Numbness

Nerves are like wires that carry messages from the brain. When there is pressure, the nerve can become irritated. This can cause numbness. For example, a pinched nerve in the neck can cause numbness in the arm and hand.

  • Tingling

A pinched nerve can also cause a tingling sensation. This is because the pressure on the nerve interferes with the messages being sent to the brain. The result is a "pins and needles" feeling.

  • Pain

One of the most common symptoms of a pinched nerve is pain. The pain can range from mild to severe. It is often described as a sharp, shooting pain. The pressure on the nerve causes the pain. Sciatica, for example, is a type of pain caused by a pinched nerve in the lower back.

  • Weakness

A pinched nerve can cause weakness in the muscles. This is because the pressure on the nerve interferes with the messages it is trying to send to the brain. For example, a pinched nerve in the neck can cause weakness in the arm and hand.

  • Bladder incontinence

A pinched nerve in the lower back can cause bladder incontinence. This is because the nerve that controls the bladder is located in the lower back. When there is pressure on this nerve, it can cause the bladder to leak urine.

How is a pinched nerve treated?

The treatment for a pinched nerve depends on the cause of the pressure on the nerve. In some cases, the pressure can be relieved with rest and ice. In other cases, the pressure may need to be cleared with surgery.

Causes of a pinched nerve

  • Aging – with age, the disks in the spine begin to wear down. This can cause the disk to bulge or herniate. The result is pressure on the nerve.
  • An injury such as a car accident can result in pressure on the nerve.
  • Inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis.
  • Bone spur – a bone spur is a growth of bone that can occur with age. The spur can press on the nerve and cause pain.
  • Tumour – a tumour can compress the nerve and cause pain.
  • Pregnancy – The extra weight of pregnancy can cause the disk to bulge or herniate. The result is pressure on the nerve.
  • Obesity –  Obesity can cause the disk to bulge or herniate.
  • Repetitive motion –  Repetitive motions, such as lifting heavy objects, can cause the disk to bulge or herniate, causing pinched nerves.

How to prevent a pinched nerve

  • Exercise regularly and use the correct form of workout
  • Maintain good posture
  • Wear comfortable shoes
  • Rest when you are tired
  • Avoid repetitive motions
  • Stretch before exercise

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