Home > Blog > 8 Top Warning Signs You Have a Pinched Nerve
Pinched nerves are not uncommon but when they occur, they can cause a lot of pain and discomfort. Pinched nerves occur most frequently in the cervical and lumbar spine due to their range of motion and injuries or damage to nerves due to health conditions or sports accidents. The first step in getting relief is to get your signs and symptoms accurately diagnosed by an experienced healthcare provider and determine nerve compression as the culprit. Visit award-winning therapists and physicians at Physical Therapy NYC to get a comprehensive recovery plan that helps you achieve your treatment goals for long-term health. Physical therapy works to increase strength and flexibility. Increased strength in your muscles and more flexibility will support the part of the body where the nerve is pinched and with the right moves, the nerve can heal.
Nerves extend from the brain to the spinal cord and play a significant role in sending crucial messages throughout your body. In the case of a pinched nerve or a compressed nerve, you will experience warning signs such as pain and other symptoms. You must not ignore these warning signs as they may result in some critical damage that may cause temporary or long-lasting problems.
What Is a Pinched Nerve?
When too much pressure is applied to a nerve by surrounding tissues such as bones, cartilage, muscles, or tendons, it can result in a pinched nerve. This pressure can cause pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness.
Nerves are most vulnerable at places in the body where they travel in narrow spaces but have little soft tissues to protect them. Nerve compression often occurs when the nerve is pressed between tissues such as:
A pinched nerve can occur in many areas of the body depending on the causes, and symptoms can vary from person to person.
What Causes a Pinched Nerve?
A pinched nerve describes one type of damage or injury to a nerve or a set of nerves. A pinched nerve occurs as a result of compression or pressure on a nerve. This pressure may be the result of repetitive motions or it may occur from holding your body in position for longer periods such as keeping elbows bent during sleep. An injury can also damage tissues in the spine or cause them to become inflamed, putting unwanted pressure on the nerves.
Medical causes of a pinched nerve can include:
- A herniated disc – the disks between the vertebrae in the spine can become compressed and bulge, putting pressure on nearby nerves.
- Spinal stenosis – this refers to a narrowing of the spinal column, which puts excess pressure on the nerves around the spinal cord.
- Arthritis – it causes inflammation around joints and bones, which can increase pressure on nerves in the spine.
- Bone spurs – a bone spur is an extra growth of bone, which can form on the spine and compress surrounding nerves, causing reoccurring episodes of pain.
- Spondylolisthesis – it involves a vertebra in the lower spine dislodging and pinching nerves.
- Infection – The vertebrae or discs of the spine can become infected, leading to inflammation and nerve pain.
Nerve compression occurs when inflammation or pressure on a nerve root on the spine may cause neck or lower back pain. It may also cause pain to radiate from the neck into the shoulder and arm, also known as cervical radiculopathy. In some cases, pain may radiate into the leg and foot, causing lumbar radiculopathy or sciatic nerve pain.
Many other conditions may cause the tissues to compress a nerve or nerves, including:
- Rheumatoid or wrist arthritis;
- Stress from repetitive work;
- Hobbies or sports activities;
If a nerve is pinched for only a short time, there is usually no permanent damage, and once the pressure is relieved, nerve pressure returns to normal. However, if the stress continues, it can result in chronic pain and nerve damage.
Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve
The symptoms of pinched nerves range from nonexistent to severe and debilitating. They usually depend on the location of the pinched nerve, amount of compression, and causes of a pinched nerve.
Here are the 8 top warning signs that you may experience if you have got a pinched nerve:
Pain or burning sensation radiating down the leg
When a nerve is pinched, the pain usually radiates along some or all of the pathways where the nerve supplies sensations or movement. Sciatica is a common type of low back pain that occurs when the sciatic nerve gets pinched or compressed in the lower spine, called the lumbar spine.
The branches of the sciatic nerve extend from the lumbar spine through the buttock and down to the leg and foot. If this nerve gets compressed or irritated, it can cause pain, burning sensation, or a dull ache anywhere along that nerve pathway.
Pain extending from the neck to the arm
Nerve compression in the neck portion of the spine, also called the cervical spine, occurs when a nerve in the neck, which goes from the spine down the shoulders and to the arms, gets compressed. The inflammation or the pressure on a nerve root existing on the spine makes the pain radiate from the neck into the shoulders and arms, known as cervical radiculopathy.
Irritation of a cervical nerve can cause pain and similar symptoms anywhere along the nerve pathway, including your shoulders, the very upper part of your back, arms, and even your hands.
Weakness in the legs
When you walk or use your legs in other ways, the nerves in the legs send information at lighting fast speed to the brain, which in turn stimulates your muscles to react in specific ways. If your sciatic nerve or other nerves are pinched, it can interfere with these signals and result in weakness or affect certain movements.
Nerve compression can cause muscle weakness and loss of motor function in the affected areas of the body, particularly the legs. Depending on the severity of nerve compression, you may have difficulty walking normally or staying on your feet for a long time. If there seems to be no other reason for unexpected weakness in the legs, it may be a sign of nerve compression.
Poor grip strength
Hand nerves play a crucial role in your ability to grasp and hold things. They provide the brain with a lot of sensory information about things you are touching so that the brain can tell your muscles how to respond. When a nerve in the cervical vertebrae is irritated or pinched, it may not pass on the information to the brain.
Nerve compression frequently leads to lost grip strength. It means your muscles will not be able to perform normally, resulting in reduced grip strength, difficulty writing, or performing other small motor tasks.
Numbness in various parts of the body
Nerve compression can shut down the communication between the nerves in your arms, legs, or other areas of the body. It means the brain cannot feel or receive messages from these parts. As a result, you may have a complete lack of sensation and feel numbness in those areas. It is just like when you fall to sleep with your arms or legs in an unusual position.
You will feel a loss of sensation or numbness in the area of the body that is affected by a pinched nerve as well as nearby areas. If you have a pinched nerve in the neck, you will feel numbness in the shoulders, arms, hands, or fingers. A pinched nerve in the back can cause numbness in the buttock, leg, or foot.
Pins and needles sensations or paresthesia
Pins and needles sensation, also known as paresthesia or prickly sensations happens when a nerve is compressed or irritated. It indicates that the signals between the nerve and the brain are not completely blocked, but they have been sufficiently affected to cause these annoying symptoms.
A pinched nerve in the wrist can lead to pain and numbness in your hands and fingers, also known as carpal tunnel syndrome. Paresthesia is a common early indicator of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Bowel or bladder problems
Pinched nerves in the back do not only affect movement in your legs and feet. They also lead to bowel and bladder incontinence.
When a nerve in your lower back is severely compressed, you may face urine leakage, bowel discharge, or other problems with these functions.
Pain that changes position as you move
In many conditions, pain can lessen or worsen when you move your position, but the way it changes can vary, based on what is causing the pain. For instance, people suffering from sciatica feel less pain when they are leaning forward from a sitting position, or when they lie flat on their back. They also reported that if they lie on their side, it often gets worse. This is the reason why it becomes so hard for people to sleep with a pinched nerve on their back.
If you have a compressed nerve in the low back, the pain may worsen if you sit or stand in positions that put more pressure on the spine and nerves for a long time. You may also feel sudden, shooting pain during forceful movements like coughing, sneezing, or laughing.
Get relief from the pinched nerve
Getting relief from pinched nerves is essential to avoid debilitating pain, lasting damage, and restricted movement. It is essential to consult a doctor and physical therapist to have your condition accurately diagnosed and rule out the risk of underlying medical conditions.
In some cases, pinched nerve damage cannot be reversed. You can only relieve the pain and other symptoms with treatment. The first step to relieving pain and other symptoms is to schedule a visit to your healthcare provider to have yourself evaluated for nerve compression. The earlier you seek medical help, the quicker you will find relief. The experienced physicians and therapists come up with custom solutions, tailored to your specific needs and make sure these warning signs do not pose a serious threat.
Most people recover from a pinched nerve with rest and conservative treatments within a few days or weeks. In some cases, surgery may be required to seek relief from the compressed nerve.
If you continue to experience the warning signs of a pinched nerve, consult your primary care doctor or visit a physical therapist. When detected timely, nerve compression is treatable, and you can look forward to full recovery. With skilled guidance and dedicated care, the top-rated therapists at the Physical Therapists NYC can help you find relief so that you feel better and do the things you enjoy. Experienced therapists can treat pinched nerves and heal the surrounding parts. They are experts in movement and show you the right way to carry out exercises that strengthen muscles and relieve compression.