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What Is a Pinched Nerve?

You may not realize that some common conditions are the result of a pinched nerve. For example, carpal tunnel syndrome may occur when muscles and tendons in the wrist swell from overuse, pinching the median nerve in the wrist. Herniated disks in the back can cause pain and disability because of pinched nerves. If a pinched nerve is left untreated, permanent damage to the area beyond the pinched nerve may result.

A system of nerves spreads throughout the body, so a pinched nerve can occur anywhere along the course of the nervous system. For instance, nerves run from the shoulders to the hands, down the legs, from the pelvis to the knee, and from the buttocks down each leg. Symptoms of a pinched nerve may not occur at the actual location where the nerve is compressed, but rather in an area some distance away. A burning feeling in your arm actually may be caused by a pinched nerve in the neck. Tingling toes may signify a pinched nerve somewhere in the back.

You may not be able to gauge the severity of the problem by the severity of your symptoms. Sometimes a symptom may go away, so it seems like the problem is gone. It may, however, mean that the nerve has actually become compressed completely, so the nerve can't function at all. Lack of nerve function may lead to loss of muscle function.

If you have symptoms of pain, burning, tingling, or numbness, or if you are experiencing muscle weakness, call your health care provider.

What can you do for a pinched nerve? Self-care measures may include:

  • Applying ice to the affected area

  • Taking anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen or aspirin. Check with your health care provider to make sure it's OK for you to use these over-the-counter medications

  • Using a splint to immobilize the wrist if you have carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms; wrist splints can be purchased at a pharmacy or other retail stores

 

Online Medical Reviewer: Fraser, Marianne, MSN, RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Jones, Niya, MD
Last Review Date: 6/27/2012
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