Explaining exactly what a pinched nerve feels like is not a simple task. There are many nerves within the human body, all working to send messages to and from the brain, performing our motor functions and sending sensory information for processing. We have nerves in our hands, feet, neck, back, elbows and almost everywhere else, so depending on what nerve gets trapped, the symptoms will differ.
- A pinched nerve in the neck can cause neck pain or stiffness, along with symptoms down the arm.
- A pinched nerve in the lower back causes back pain and stiffness with symptoms down the leg. A doctor can often identify which nerve is pinched in the neck or lower back based on what portion of the patient's arm or leg is affected.
- A pinched nerve in the wrist from carpal tunnel syndrome typically affects the thumb, index, and middle fingers. It can also cause a weakness in the patient's grip strength, and atrophy of the muscle of the palm near the thumb. A pinched nerve in the elbow from cubital tunnel syndrome affects the forearm, the ring (fourth finger), and the small fingers of the hand.
Pinched nerves are often painful and restricting, but the only person who can tell you whether you definitely have one or not is your doctor. They will begin by asking you about your job or daily activities, the symptoms you're experiencing and may give you a short physical exam. If they are still unsure then you may be sent for an x ray to check for spinal damage or arthritis, or a test using tiny electrical pulses to see if the nerve is damaged or not.
How to Treat a Pinched Nerve
- Recognize the symptoms of a pinched nerve: numbness, sharp pain, muscle weakness and muscle spasms or tingling.
- Expedite the healing process by allowing the strained nerve plenty of time to rest. Repeated use of the muscle could cause additional damage and strain, while relief of pain and inflammation will help healing begin.
- Keep the rest of your body active via aerobic exercise like walking or swimming. You can rest the pinched nerve while keeping your blood pumping. In fact, good blood and oxygen circulation and toned muscles can actually help heal the pinched nerve. Inactivity, on the other hand, can lead to loss of muscle strength and decreases in the body's basic senses.
- Apply the hot-then-cold method for relaxing and soothing the muscles. Start with some form of heat applied to the pinched nerve to help the muscle relax: a hot water bottle, hot shower spray directed at the pinched nerve or a soak in the bathtub or hot tub. Follow the heat with an ice pack for about 20 minutes. Then repeat every two hours or so. The ice increases blood flow to the deeper structures of the nerves and muscles to help reduce the swelling.
- Make an appointment for a hot oil massage. Ask the massage therapist to spend additional time and effort on the pinched nerve area of your body to help it relax. Even gentle massage with warm oil will help, but if the nerve isn't relaxing, talk to the therapist about additional pressure to the nerves surrounding the pinched area. However, massaging all areas of the body will help you with overall relaxation, which will help reduce stress from the pinched nerve.
- Increase calcium intake either through food or medication supplements, as calcium will help prevent and cure calcium deficiencies as well as pinched nerves that result from a lack of calcium in the body.
- Watch your intake of acidic foods if you are prone to suffer from pinched nerves. Food and beverages with a high acidic content can contribute to the pain. Foods such as cucumber, apples, watermelon, papaya and bananas will help eliminate acidity in the body, especially when eaten 2 to 3 hours prior to sleep, as will eating breakfast every day.
- Consume potassium-rich foods to help alleviate pinched nerves often caused by a lack of potassium. Add to your diet such foods as apricots, bananas, avocados, melon, figs and dates. Nuts, such as roasted peanuts and almonds, and beverages, including skim milk and orange juice, help increase potassium absorption.
- Consider surgery to repair the pinched nerve only as a last resort. Surgical intervention can help you resume normal activity, but it can only take care of about 10 percent of the problem; you'll still need to do the remaining work to rebuild your strength and keep your body moving.