written by: R. Elizabeth C. Kitchen
• edited by: dianahardin
• updated: 5/30/2011
A pinched nerve can be painful and cause other symptoms that impact the quality of life. There are many treatment options available to provide relief.
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What is a Pinched Nerve?
A pinched nerve is a condition characterized by a nerve being compressed by a surrounding bone, muscle, tendon or cartilage. The pressure associated with this compression causes a disruption in nerve function, which can cause tingling, numbness, pain or weakness.
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Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) are the most commonly prescribed medication for a pinched nerve. Many patients will find relief using an over-the-counter (OTC) form of this medication, such as ibuprofen. Those who do not find relief with an OTC type of NSAID may be prescribed a prescription-strength form. These medications may cause side effects, though, and they are not for everyone. The most common side effects include nausea, dizziness, diarrhea, abdominal pain, unexplained rash, constipation, vomiting and gas.
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Corticosterioid injections may be lessen inflammation and pain. Side effects are not common; however, patients may be a little sore after having these injections. During the procedure, the patient may feel some pressure as the corticosteroid is injected, but the procedure itself is generally not painful. If a patient has an active infection, this injection is usually not provided until the infection is completely cleared up, because the steroid may suppress the immune system.
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In physical therapy, patients can work with a trained physical therapist to learn specific exercises that will help them stretch and strengthen the muscles in the area of the affected nerve. This will often help in alleviated pressure on the nerve. A physical therapist may also suggest activity modifications that will help the patient to prevent from aggravating the pinched nerve.
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The majority of patients will recover from a pinched nerve without surgical intervention, but for others, surgery may be an option. The surgical procedure performed will depend on why the nerve is pinched. For example, if a spinal nerve is pinched, the surgeon may have to remove a portion of a herniated spinal disc or a bone spur. If a nerve is pinched in the wrist, the surgeon may have to sever the carpal tunnel ligament so that there is more room in the area for the nerve in the wrist. Surgery may be considered, if a pinched nerve does not begin to improve from several weeks to a few months after a patient has been going through conservative forms of treatment, or if the symptoms are severe. A physician will be able to determine the need for surgery, after a physical examination.
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National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2007). NINDS Pinched Nerve Information Page. Retrieved on May 17, 2011 from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/pinchednerve/pinchednerve.htm."
WebMD. (2010). "Pinched Nerve." Retrieved on May 17, 2011 from WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/carpal-tunnel/pinched-nerve.