Nerve compression syndrome can develop due to excess pressure on a nerve. It can affect the hands, arms, legs, and other parts of the body.
This article looks at the symptoms of nerve compression syndrome, some common areas of the body that it can occur in, and the treatment options available.
A doctor may refer to nerve compression as a pinched or trapped nerve, or nerve entrapment. Excess pressure on a nerve from surrounding tissues can cause nerve compression.
Nerve compression syndrome can occur in many parts of the body, and the symptoms will depend on the affected nerve. Pressure at the root of the nerve can also cause pain to radiate to nearby areas of the body.
Repetitive movements can cause nerve compression in certain areas of the body, such as the hand or elbow.
Certain health conditions that cause inflammation in the body can also give rise to nerve compression, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Other factors and conditions can also contribute to nerve compression. These include:
- pituitary disorders
Masses in the body, such as benign tumors or cysts, can also lead to nerve compression, as can poor posture, blood clots, and nerve disorders.
Some types of nerve compression, such as in the neck or lower back, can occur as the body ages, through natural wear and tear. In younger people, injuries such as a slipped disk in the back can cause nerve compression.
Also, excess pressure or injury to the abdomen can cause nerve compression in this area.
The symptoms of nerve compression will vary depending on where it occurs in the body. The sections below will discuss the possible symptoms based on where they occur.
Symptoms of cervical radiculopathy include:
- a sharp or burning pain in the neck, shoulder, or arm
- additional pain when turning the head or extending the neck
- a tingling sensation in the hand and fingers
- muscle weakness in the hand, arm, or shoulder
- a loss of sensation in the hand, arm, or shoulder
Painful symptoms may lessen if a person puts their hands on their head. This is because this movement relieves pressure on the affected nerve.
Nerve compression in the elbows is known as cubital tunnel syndrome. Cubital tunnel syndrome is a compression of the ulnar nerve, which runs from the neck through to the hand.
The symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome may increase when a person bends their elbow. Symptoms include:
- numbness or tingling in the hand and fingers, particularly the ring finger and little finger
- weakness in the hand
- difficulty with finger coordination, such as when typing or playing an instrument
- in severe cases, muscle wasting in the hand
Carpal tunnel syndrome is
- numbness or tingling in the hand and arm
- pain in the hand and arm, which may worsen at night
- shock-like or burning sensations in the thumb and fingers
- weakness or clumsiness in the hand, which may make people drop things
- difficulty gripping or grasping with the hand
Symptoms may start gradually, and they may come and go. As the condition progresses, they may be more frequent and last longer.
People may find that shaking the hand relieves the symptoms.
A doctor may refer to nerve compression that affects the leg as lumbar radiculopathy, or sciatica.
Compression of the sciatic nerve can cause pain in the leg. The sciatic nerve is the largest in the body and runs from the pelvis down each leg.
Symptoms of sciatica include:
- pain in the lower back, which may spread down one side of the buttock and the back of the thigh
- pain from the buttock to the lower leg
- in severe cases, weakness and numbness in the lower body
Nerve compression in the abdomen is a
- a sharp pain in the abdomen
- tenderness when gently pinching or stroking the abdomen
- pain that may radiate toward the spine
- localized pain in the area
- pain that may increase with certain movements, such as coughing, lifting, or stretching
The treatment for nerve compression syndrome will depend on the area of the body it affects.
Sciatica, for example, may heal by itself over time with plenty of rest. That said, the following treatments can help relieve painful symptoms:
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- hot or cold compresses, to ease sore muscles
- gentle exercises and movement
- osteopathic treatment
- surgery, if the person has a slipped disk
Treatment for nerve compression in the hands, elbows, or shoulders may involve avoiding certain postures and activities that worsen symptoms. A doctor may also recommend specific exercises, called nerve gliding exercises, that help free the nerve and relieve pressure.
A person may require anti-inflammatory medications or a steroid injection to reduce inflammation. Wearing a splint or brace may also help keep the arm straight and relieve pressure on the nerve.
To treat cervical radiculopathy, a doctor may advise wearing a soft neck support to help rest the neck temporarily.
To relieve mild symptoms of abdominal nerve compression, a person may simply need to limit or avoid activities that worsen the symptoms.
If the symptoms are more severe, a doctor may recommend a steroid injection. In rare cases, a person may require surgery to freeze the trapped nerve and relieve the symptoms.
Avoiding repetitive motions can help reduce the risk of nerve compression syndrome. Taking regular breaks from work and repetitive activities, as well as doing gentle movements, may help.
Avoiding excess or prolonged pressure on the hands, wrists, and elbows can also help. For example, people should take care not to lean on their elbows while working at a desk or driving.
Treating any underlying conditions, such as diabetes or arthritis, can help reduce inflammation in the body and lower the risk of nerve compression.
Some other ways to help prevent nerve compression include:
- maintaining a moderate weight
- keeping good posture, and not staying in one position for too long
- doing regular strength building and flexibility exercises for the whole body
In some cases, nerve compression can heal by itself with rest. However, if there is no improvement after trying home remedies, or if the symptoms are severe or worsening, a person should see their doctor.
If a person does not receive treatment for nerve compression syndrome, it can progress. In some cases, untreated nerve compression can result in permanent nerve damage.
Nerve compression syndrome is a condition that results from excess pressure on a nerve. It can affect anyone.
A person may be able to treat nerve compression syndrome at home by:
- doing gentle mobilizing stretches
- avoiding repetitive movements that aggravate the condition
- applying hot or cold compresses
- taking NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen
If the symptoms do not improve, or if they worsen, a person should see their doctor. They may prescribe:
- anti-inflammatory medications
- splints or braces
- physical therapy
- a steroid injection
In some cases, a person may require surgery to freeze the compressed nerve and relieve the symptoms.