Pressure on a nerve can lead to numbness, tingling or pain that’s often improved by resting the area.
A pinched nerve occurs when too much pressure is applied to a nerve by surrounding tissues, such as bones, cartilage, muscles or tendons. This pressure can cause pain, tingling, numbness or weakness.
A pinched nerve can occur in many areas throughout the body. For example, a herniated disk in the lower spine may put pressure on a nerve root. This may cause pain that radiates down the back of your leg. Likewise, a pinched nerve in your wrist can lead to pain and numbness in your hand and fingers (carpal tunnel syndrome).
With rest and other conservative treatments, most people recover from a pinched nerve within a few days or weeks. Sometimes, surgery is needed to relieve pain from a pinched nerve.
Pinched nerve signs and symptoms include:
The problems related to a pinched nerve may be worse when you're sleeping.
See your health care provider if the signs and symptoms of a pinched nerve last for several days and don't respond to self-care measures, such as rest and over-the-counter pain relievers.
A pinched nerve occurs when too much pressure (compression) is applied to a nerve by surrounding tissues.
In some cases, this tissue might be bone or cartilage, such as in the case of a herniated spinal disk that compresses a nerve root. In other cases, muscle or tendons may cause the condition.
In the case of carpal tunnel syndrome, a variety of tissues may be responsible for compression of the carpal tunnel's median nerve, including swollen tendon sheaths within the tunnel, enlarged bone that narrows the tunnel, or a thickened and degenerated ligament.
A number of conditions may cause tissue to compress a nerve or nerves, including:
If a nerve is pinched for only a short time, there's usually no permanent damage. Once the pressure is relieved, nerve function returns to normal. However, if the pressure continues, chronic pain and permanent nerve damage can occur.
A pinched median nerve in your wrist can lead to pain, numbness and weakness in your hand and fingers (carpal tunnel syndrome).
The following factors may increase your risk of experiencing a pinched nerve:
Other risk factors include:
The following measures may help you prevent a pinched nerve:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and conduct a physical examination.
If your doctor suspects a pinched nerve, you may undergo some tests. These tests may include:
The most frequently recommended treatment for a pinched nerve is rest for the affected area. Your doctor will ask you to stop any activities that cause or aggravate the compression.
Depending on the location of the pinched nerve, you may need a splint, collar or brace to immobilize the area. If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, your doctor may recommend wearing a splint during the day as well as at night because wrists flex and extend frequently during sleep.
A physical therapist can teach you exercises that strengthen and stretch the muscles in the affected area to relieve pressure on the nerve. The physical therapist may also recommend modifications to activities that aggravate the nerve.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve), can help relieve pain. Anticonvulsants, such as gabapentin (Neurontin) and tricyclic medications such as nortriptyline (Pamelor) and amitriptyline are often used to treat nerve-related pain.
Corticosteroids, given by mouth or by injection, may help minimize pain and inflammation.
If the pinched nerve doesn't improve after several weeks to a few months with conservative treatments, your doctor may recommend surgery to take pressure off the nerve. The type of surgery varies depending on the location of the pinched nerve.
Surgery may entail removing bone spurs or a part of a herniated disk in the spine, for example, or severing the carpal ligament to allow more room for the nerve to pass through the wrist.
You're likely to first see your health care provider. Because there's often a lot to discuss and time may be limited, it's a good idea to prepare for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment and know what to expect from your doctor.
Preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time with your doctor. For a suspected pinched nerve, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask other questions during your appointment.
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. They may include: