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Pinched nerve

What is pinched nerve?

The term pinched nerve describes one type of damage or injury to a nerve or set of nerves.

Nerves are important for carrying signals to and from the brain, for example to make limbs move and to uses senses, like touch.

The injury may result from compression, constriction, or stretching. Symptoms include numbness, "pins and needles" or burning sensations, and pain radiating outward from the injured area.

One of the most common examples of a single compressed nerve is the feeling of having a foot or hand "fall asleep".

Weakness of the muscles along the path of the nerve may be experienced.

Causes of pinched nerve

A pinched nerve in the neck or lower back can be caused by a herniated disc, arthritis, bone spurs, or spinal stenosis.

A pinched nerve in the wrist can be caused by carpal tunnel syndrome.

Swelling around a nerve can be caused by an injury, bruise or other conditions, including the swelling of the extremities that can occur with pregnancy. An inherited tendency, from a family history of a similar condition, can also increase an individual's chance of developing a pinched nerve.

Early diagnosis is important to prevent further damage or complications. Pinched nerve is a common cause of work-related injuries.

How is a pinched nerve diagnosed?

A doctor will ask the patient about symptoms, medical history and carry out a physical examination.

If the doctor suspects the patient has a pinched nerve (compression of the nerves) in the neck or lower back, X-rays may be necessary to assess possible injury to the spine or arthritis of the spine. Depending on the severity and duration of the patient's symptoms, he or she may also need a CT scan or an MRI scan.

The doctor may also recommend specific tests for the affected nerve including a nerve conduction study or electromyography (EMG).

Is there any treatment for a pinched nerve?

In many cases a pinched nerve can be treated with rest and ice around the affected area.

Anti-inflammatory medication may be recommended. Physiotherapy may be recommended, and splints or collars may be used. In some cases, surgery is required.

What is the outlook for a pinched nerve?

In most cases, patients with a pinched nerve are able to recover completely without any long lasting symptoms. Most patients respond well to conservative treatment including rest, activity modification, ice, physiotherapy and medication.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on September 14, 2012

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