A pinched nerve occurs when pressure or force is put on an area of a nerve, causing it to send warning signals to the brain. Most cases are mild, and a person can often treat them at home.
In this article, learn what a pinched nerve is, how to reduce the symptoms of a pinched nerve, and how to prevent them in the future.
- ‘pins and needles’ or burning sensations
- pain radiating outward from the injured area
Pinched nerves can occur anywhere in the body but happen most often in the neck, back, elbows, and wrists.
Carpal tunnel syndromeoccurs due to a nerve in the hand – the median nerve – being squeezed or pinched as it travels through the wrist. Tennis elbow and peripheral neuropathy are conditions that can present similarly to a pinched nerve, with a person experiencing numbness, pain, and tingling in the hands or feet.
There are a variety of ways a person can relieve the pain of a pinched nerve at home.
1. Extra sleep and rest
In many cases, resting the affected area and getting extra sleep is enough to allow the pinched nerve to heal on its own.
While treating a pinched nerve, it is also important not to overuse the nerve. Nerve damage can be made worse by overuse. A person with a pinched nerve should avoid any movements that irritate the nerve. They should also try to sleep in a position that relieves the pressure on the nerve.
2. Change of posture
A pinched nerve may be caused by or made worse by poor posture. Sitting or standing with an incorrect posture for extended periods puts unnecessary stress on the body, which may damage the spine and muscles, leading to a pinched nerve.
Using cushions, adjustable chairs, and neck rests when sitting may help relieve pressure and allow the nerve to heal.
3. Ergonomic workstation
People dealing with pinched nerves could try making changes in their workstation.
Using an ergonomic mouse and keyboard may help reduce pressure on the hands and wrists. Raising a computer monitor to eye level may help reduce neck pain and symptoms of text neck.
Using a standing workstation or desk can help keep the spine moving and flexible, which could reduce back pain.
Ergonomic workstations have a range of positional options suitable for many types of pinched nerves.
The best way to find the right position is for an individual to experiment with the settings to see which position relieves pressure.
4. Pain relieving medications
Over-the-counter pain medications
As with any drug, it is important to consult a doctor for dosage recommendations and any potential interactions before using NSAIDs.
5. Stretching and yoga
Gentle stretching and yoga may help relieve tension and pressure in the area. It is important not to stretch too deeply, as this may make symptoms worse.
Whilst some stretches might cause slight discomfort, if a person experiences moderate to severe pain they should stop immediately to avoid damaging the nerve any further.
6. Massage or physical therapy
Having a massage may also help reduce physical pain and stress. Applying gentle pressure around the affected area may help relieve tension, and a full body massage can help the muscles relax.
Deep tissue massages may not be a good idea because the extra pressure may make the symptoms worse.
If it is possible, wearing a splint on the affected area can help prevent further damage and help the nerve heal. This is a standard treatment for pinched nerves in the hands and wrists.
Many people also sleep with the splint on to prevent any irritation in the night and help them sleep. The splint will help take pressure off the nerve.
8. Elevate the legs
People with pinched nerves in the back may find relief by elevating their legs to reduce pressure on nerves in the back.
A person can achieve this by putting a few pillows under their knees, so their legs are at a 45-degree angle to the body.
9. Ice and heat packs
Alternating between heat and ice packs can help reduce swelling and inflammation in many cases. The combination of hot and cold increases the circulation of fresh blood to the area, which may help relieve pain.
Hold an ice pack over the affected area for about 15 minutes at a time, three times a day, to help reduce inflammation. Heat pads can be applied for a longer period, up to 1 hour, three times a day.
10. Lifestyle changes
In the long term, adding low-impact exercise, such as walking, swimming, or cycling, to a daily regimen may help reduce symptoms and keep the body in shape. Losing extra weight can help reduce pressure on the nerves, and the added mobility from a regular workout may reduce inflammation.
Stretching before or after low-impact exercises can help keep the body flexible and reduce pressure and inflammation near the nerves.
A pinched nerve typically happens when a nerve is damaged and cannot send regular signals to the brain, which may cause feelings of numbness and tingling.
Also, certain activities and habits can cause a pinched nerve. Sitting, standing, or walking with poor posture may contribute to a pinched nerve.
A pinched nerve is sending warning signs to the brain, so it is important that people listen to them. Anyone feeling pain from a pinched nerve that continues after regular treatments or lasts for more than a few days should report it to a doctor.
There are a few symptoms that require medical attention as soon as possible, including:
- a pinched nerve affecting the bladder
- an inability to grip objects or a tendency to drop things
- nerve damage that causes a limb or area of the body to give out or collapse
Doctors may request imaging tests, such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan, to get a better picture of the nerves and how they are affected. Alternatively, they may request an electromyography (EMG) test.
This will help narrow down treatment options, which include painkillers or corticosteroids, physical therapy, or, in severe cases, surgery.
Surgical treatment comes with its risks and complications, so anyone considering surgery should work directly with their doctor to find a treatment plan that is right for their personal needs.
Below are some frequently asked questions about a pinched nerve.
How does a person relieve a pinched nerve?
Getting enough sleep, taking pain relief, doing gentle stretches, and having a massage are ways to relieve a pinched nerve.
Do pinched nerves go away on their own?
Most cases of pinched nerves go away on their own with some rest.
How long does it take a pinched nerve to heal?
Depending on the treatment, a pinched nerve may heal within as little as a few days to as long as 4 weeks — or, in some cases, even longer (in which case a person should see their doctor).
Can a chiropractor fix a pinched nerve?
A chiropractor may be able to help fix a pinched nerve. Chiropractors treat bones, nerves, muscles, and ligament disorders.
Most pinched nerves are temporary and easily treated at home. Persistent symptoms may be a sign of more serious damage that requires medical care.
Pinched nerves are mostly avoidable, and a good self-care routine can help reduce inflammation and keep pressure from building up around the nerves.