Treating a Pinched Nerve

Ever felt as if a part of your body like your arm, leg, fingers or toes “tingling” or has simply “fallen asleep”? Well, you might have fallen victim to a “pinched nerve” or a compressed nerve. Let’s talk in detail about what a pinched nerve is and how to treat it.

So what exactly is a pinched nerve?
A pinched nerve means a compressed nerve. At times, where nerves pass through narrow body compartments, they may become compressed as a result of increased pressure exerted by the surrounding tissues. Some of the common causes of pinched nerves are
● Pressure (lying on elbow for too long, for instance)
● Inflammation causing swelling (compartment syndrome, for example)
● Trauma
● Slipped disc
● Obesity
A pinched nerve may causes the following signs and symptoms
● Tingling or “pins and needles” feeling
● Numbness or decreased feeling in the affected area
● Burning
● Pain
● Weakness
How to treat a pinched nerve1?
A pinched nerve is diagnosed by a neurologist or neurosurgeons with the aid of diagnostic tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or nerve conduction studies. The mainstay of the treatment for a pinched nerve is to address the underlying cause and provide symptomatic relief at the same time.
Some of the common strategies employed for the treatment of a pinched nerve are listed below.
Lifestyle changes
● Rest
● Cold compresses
● Correct posture
● Weight reduction
● Healthy diet
● Avoiding soft tissue stress, for example, repetitive movements
● Avoiding contact sports that might cause trauma
Exercise and physiotherapy under supervision of a certified physiotherapist can help with the pain and other symptoms of a pinched nerve. Physiotherapy is often combined with medications as a treatment regime for pinched nerves.
● Painkillers such as paracetamol, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or weak to moderately strong opioids
● Anti-inflammatory agents like NSAIDs (Ibuprofen etc) to counter inflammation or oral steroids
● Corticosteroids injections administered directly into the affected area to combat pain and inflammation
If all treatment modalities fail to improve the symptoms or if the quality of life is significantly impacted, a neurosurgeon might resort to surgery as an effective option for pinched nerves. A procedure or type of surgery may vary depending on the part of the body that is affected.
Surgery may be as simple as an incision to relieve pressure on nerves (for example, in cases of compartment syndrome2). In other cases, surgery might involve surgical treatment of a slipped disc.
Reach out to a competent neurosurgeon as soon as you develop any of the symptoms of a pinched nerve listed below. Early recognition of the signs and symptoms and timely treatment can save you from the complications of pinched nerves and the related morbidity.

1. Shannon J, Rizzolo D. Carpal tunnel syndrome: symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options. Journal of the American Academy of PAs. 2012 Sep 1;25(9):22-6.
2. Cha SM, Shin HD, Ahn JS, Beom JW, Kim DY. Differences in the postoperative outcomes according to the primary treatment options chosen by patients with carpal tunnel syndrome: conservative versus operative treatment. Annals of plastic surgery. 2016 Jul 1;77(1):80-4.

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