The pain and other accompanying symptoms caused by a pinched nerve can be unbearable 12. A pinched nerve in the neck occurs when excessive pressure is placed on a nerve or the nerve roots by a nearby structure 1. Some of the more common structures that cause pinched nerves are cervical discs, bone spurs and tight muscles. Symptoms of a pinched nerve in the cervical spine include local pain, radiating pain down the arms into the fingers, muscle weakness, muscle spasm, numbness and tingling 12. According to the Mayo Clinic, most people recover from the effects of a pinched nerve with conservative treatment within a few days 13.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
When a nerve in the cervical spine becomes pinched or irritated, there is usually a lot of accompanying inflammation 12. Inflammatory chemicals irritate the nerve and can increase symptoms. The use of ice packs is always a good first treatment choice when trying to reduce pain and inflammation. Ice restricts blood vessels and slows the inflammatory process. An ice pack should never be applied directly to the skin. Wrap the ice pack in a towel and apply over the affected area for 20 minutes every two hours. In the first 24 to 72 hours, heat should not be used as it will increase blood flow and inflammation.
Several types of medication may be helpful in reducing the effects of a pinched nerve on a temporary basis 1. According to the Mayo Clinic, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen, are often recommended because:
- they have pain relieving
- anti-inflammatory properties 1
In many cases, pinched nerves are exacerbated by muscle spasms and a doctor may recommend muscle-relaxing medication. If symptoms are severe, corticosteroid medication can be injected directly into the affected area to reduce pain and inflammation.
For a very short period of time, resting the affected area can be helpful in relieving some of the stress that is causing symptoms. Nathan Wei, M.D., reports that resting beyond a day can actually exacerbate the problem. Extended inactivity reduces critical blood flow to the area, which will slow healing and quickly cause muscle atrophy.
One of the potential aggravating factors of a pinched nerve is restricted motion in the spine 12. Chiropractors are trained to diagnose and treat disorders of the spine and can help restore proper motion to joints that are not functioning properly. They will also address accompanying muscle restriction and prescribe exercises and stretches that can help reduce stress on the affected joints.
Stretching short and tight muscles and then exercising weak ones will have the overall effect of balancing the muscles that surround the affected joints and can help reduce stress and relieve pressure on the nerves. According to Spine Universe, stretching and exercise release endorphins that can aid in pain relief 2. Gentle and consistent range of motion stretches are a good way to start relieving stress on the nerve.
- shoulder and neck masage image by Sean Wallace-Jones from Fotolia.com