Suffering from headache? Can’t find a comfortable sitting or lying position? Finding it hard to concentrate because constant pain is your companion?
Your neck pain may be the result of a compressed nerve.
Pinched Nerve Causes
People of any age can experience neck pain from a compressed nerve, though it might be more likely to occur in adults, and for varying reasons.
You don’t have to experience physical trauma to suffer from a compressed nerve in your neck. You may have merely placed your body in an awkward position, causing a temporary compression of the nerve, limiting proper transmission of nerve impulses.
There are many ways for a nerve to become compressed. Whether you lead an active and sedentary lifestyle, it is possible to injury yourself simply by making the wrong movement, sleeping in an awkward position, or through poor posture.
The Mayo clinic reports that it is surrounding tissues putting too much pressure on a nerve that causes the bad feeling, and the resulting pain and the associated numbness of the arm or hand on the affected side of the body. Factors such as “…Injury, poor posture, osteoarthritis, stress from repetitive job, hobby or sports activities and obesity…” can all cause this type of neck pain.
Here is an important point to remember, if you cannot recall an injury, sudden twist or other factor such as those mentioned above, then the pain you are experiencing in your neck could be a signal of a more serious health problem. Conditions such as a slipped spinal disc, bone spur, herniated disc or abnormal growth can cause pressure on nerves. You would be wise in this case to seek medical advice.
Nerves are like the electrical wiring system of our body. They carry electrical signals to and from our brains. Our bodies are “wired” with nerves from our brains down to nearly every body part and organ. In order to get to these parts of our body, bundles of nerves pass through and down the spinal cord, starting from the neck.
Nerves allow us to have a sense of touch, plus allow movement. They send signals of all kinds to and from the brain, organs, skin, glands and back up again to the brain. It is a non-stop process.
When we fall and skin our knee, the nerves will send signals to your brain that says, “pain”. Of course your nervous system will also then transmit signals to other body areas letting them know that first aid treatment is required. White blood cells and even natural endorphins (pain killers) will be released and directed toward the injury.
In essence then, when a nerve in your neck becomes pinched the signals are interrupted. The resulting pain and discomfort is your body’s way of telling you there is a problem. A problem you need to address to prevent any long term effects or further damage.
So now that you know what a compressed nerve is, and what causes it, what are the actual symptoms?
As we already mentioned, an interruption in a nerves “pathway” causes pain. This pain may be no more than an irritating ache, but it could also be severe and somewhat debilitating. You may experience an accompanying stiffness of the neck muscles, decreasing your ability to turn your head.
Many people describe the pain as sharp, or burning, with numbness and tingling sensations in the shoulder, arm or hand. The motion involved when coughing or sneezing will undoubtedly cause more discomfort and pain. And just try and find a comfortable position when you want to go to sleep at night.
Remember, the symptoms are your body’s way of letting you know there is a problem. In the next section we will discuss not only how to relieve the symptoms, but also how to address the cause of the compressed nerve.
Pinched Nerve Treatment
There are several home remedies you can try to relieve the pain. Massage, heat or cold packs, and gentle stretching exercises are among the more common and successful ways of finding relief from the pain and stiffness.
In mild cases, the use of simple over the counter pain medications that contain an anti-inflammatory, such as Aspirin (ASA), ibuprophen (Motrin or Advil), will also help. Check with your doctor or pharmacist first as certain medications may not be wise combined with other medications you may already be taking.
If your pain level is unbearable, your doctor may write you a prescription for a stronger pain medication. Such medication may include a muscle relaxant. The side effects include relaxing “all” muscles in your body, so it would be wise to stay home, and certainly not drive any vehicle while you are taking these meds.
If the pain and other symptoms are unbearable, or continue for several days, you should seek medical attention from your doctor. Otherwise you may run the risk of permanent nerve damage, or perhaps even miss a more serious underlying problem.
Rest may also be required. The use of a soft collar might help with resting the neck, though it is not recommended for long term use. Again, get advice from your doctor or pharmacist on this matter.
The use of a proper pillow when sleeping can play a big role in the treatment and prevention of neck pain. We discuss how to choose the right pillow for your needs in another article.
It may take several days before the problem is completely healed and during this time you could easily cause the injury to worsen. Be kind to yourself; take the time to heal properly.
What if the Problem Continues?
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, the cause of the compressed nerve needs more than just a few days to heal. If the condition is limiting your mobility or quality of life, your doctor might refer you to a physical therapist. They will work to help you stretch and strengthen your neck muscles and that in turn will help lift the pressure of the nerves in your neck.
Will surgery be necessary? Well, this depends upon the exact cause of why the nerve is being pinched, and if therapy is not helping. Only your doctor will know for sure. Let’s discuss how your doctor may diagnose the cause of your neck pain.
Possible Medical Interventions
If it’s time to visit your doctor he or she might have to run a series of tests to determine the extent and cause of the injury. First of all they will perform a physical exam. Be as accurate as you can in describing your symptoms and what you think might have caused the pain. They will ask you about the type of work you do, where you do it, what type of sports or recreational activity you partake in, etc.
Many people get to their doctors office and forget to tell them everything, or ask the important questions. Try writing everything down, even in simple point form, before you go for your appointment; then take this with you on the day of your appointment.
After your physical examination, your doctor might order a few tests. One of the first tests you can expect is an X-Ray. A basic x-ray will give the doctor a clear picture of the bones and discs in your spine, shoulders and head.
If necessary the doctor might also send you for a CT Scan or MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), a nerve conduction study, or electromyography of your neck. None of these tests are painful and each should give your doctor a clearer picture of the cause for the compressed nerve.
If none of the efforts to relieve your discomfort and pain are successful then surgery may be an option. This option is rare so don’t worry. Talk with your doctor and remember to give yourself time to heal.
How to Prevent a Pinched Nerve ?
Now that you have relieved yourself of the pain and stiffness in your neck you need to keep it from happening again.
Disease processes that can cause neck pain, such as arthritis, bone spurs, disease or infection, might not be preventable, but there are other more common causes you can control.
By now you will know what caused your problem in the first place. If it was due to a sport injury, sleeping habits, or poor posture at work then you have the power to prevent the situation from ever happening again.
Exercise to strengthen and stretch
Simple stretches, at home, at your work desk, and before any sport activity can go a long way in preventing any unnecessary strain or injury to your neck.
This video will help you understand how to exercise correctly. Simple stretches and preventative moves.
We are all guilty of having improper posture at some point in our days. Whether we are playing games on the Xbox, watching television, driving or reading a book, we need to pay closer attention to our posture.
Slouching or twisting the body and neck improperly can lead to a point where we are vulnerable to injury and pain.
Taking breaks, stretching, using proper body mechanics when lifting heavy or awkward shaped objects, even using special chairs or cushions are all ways of helping to maintain better posture.
How is your sleeping posture? Many people give very little thought to this aspect of their lives. A proper mattress, and most importantly, a proper pillow, is important aspects in helping you not only get a good night’s sleep, but also to prevent you from waking up one big pain in your neck.
We go more in-depth in another article on the best ways to select a proper pillow to suite your sleeping habits.
Staying active, proper exercise, stretching, good posture and losing any excess weight can all do a great job!
Read this article for pinched nerve in lower back.