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What Does a Pinched Nerve Feel Like?

written by: DaniellaNicole • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 3/9/2010

Discover the answer to the question "What does a pinched nerve feel like?" as well as treatments commonly used to help relieve the discomfort and pain.

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    Nerves 101

    In order to answer the question, “What does a pinched nerve feel like?” some understanding about nerves, how they work and how a nerve can become pinched becomes relevant, especially if the person asking the question is also seeking relief from symptoms.

    Nerves are part of the body’s nervous system. They are located throughout the body, beginning in the brain or spinal cord and extend into the limbs, muscles and skin. Nerves are message conduits for the body, allow muscles to move and allow for the sensation of feeling.

    For any number of reasons, a nerve may become compressed or ‘pinched’. This creates problems in the function of the nerve and can cause one or more symptoms of discomfort.

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    Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve

    The symptoms of a pinched nerve can vary depending upon the location of the nerve compression and the degree of compression. As little as one symptom can appear or multiple symptoms can occur simultaneously.

    Some of the more common symptoms of a pinched nerve are:

    • Pain
    • Numbness
    • Tingling
    • Muscle weakness
    • Burning sensation
    • Muscle spasms
    • Sensations of hot and/or cold
    • Feelings of electricity in the affected area
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    What Does a Pinched Nerve Feel Like?

    The pinched nerve can cause pain, tingling or numbness to radiate around the affected area or to appear in other locations. As examples:

    • A pinched nerve in the shoulder can cause feelings of pain in the elbow and can cause tingling in the wrist.
    • In the lower back, a pinched nerve can cause feelings of pain radiating down the leg.
    • Numbness and pain in the hand and fingers can be caused by a pinched nerve in the wrist.

    This ‘traveling’ pain is called referred pain. This can cause problems with diagnosis of the problem because the pain is not in the same location as the compressed nerve.

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    Relief for Pinched Nerves

    Women suffering from pinched nerves in the shoulder may be advised to wear brassieres that offer good support, and to sleep in them, as well. This helps reduce the amount of strain breast weight puts on the shoulder, thus reducing or eliminating the nerve compression.

    General advice for pinched nerves is as follows:

    • Heat and ice treatment. Use heat and ice packs on the affected area, alternately, in 20 minute increments.
    • Hot showers
    • Support for the affected area. The use of a sling or pillow can help ease the strain on the affected area, reducing or eliminating the nerve compression.
    • Massage. Manual massage or the use of a hand-held massager on the affected and surrounding areas can help.
    • Gentle exercise and movement.
    • Physical therapy
    • Anti-inflammatory medication. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications such as Aleve can be helpful to those suffering from a pinched nerve.
    • Cortisone injections

    Note: In rare circumstances, surgery may be needed. However, most patients do not require surgery in order to get relief.

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    References

    Pinched Nerve. Mayo Clinic Staff. January 29, 2009. http://mayoclinic.com/health/pinched-nerve/DS00879

    Why Pinched Nerves Cause Back and Neck Pain. Brandon J. Luskin, MD. http://www.spineuniverse.com/conditions/neck-pain/why-pinched-nerves-cause-back-neck-pain


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