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What Causes Pinched Nerves?

By Josie Myers
Updated May 16, 2024
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Nerves are small cord-like parts of the body that go from the brain to the spine and into the extremities. They send messages to the skin and muscles. These complex messages from the brain to the arms and legs tell the muscles to move or the skin to feel sensations. When a nerve becomes pinched, it can cause a variety of symptoms from pain to tingling and coldness.

A nerve itself is much like a television cable cord. There are many small cords within a large casing. The cords transports messages, or little electrical impulses, to the extremities just like the cable cord brings a picture to the TV. This process has to happen for the nerve to stay healthy.

If something causes pinched nerves, the nerves become inflamed and can no longer transport messages. The nerve begins to get sick. If it does not regain its ability to transfer, it starts to die. This causes the skin to feel numb and muscles to become weak.

There are numerous causes for pinched nerves. In general, the pinch happens when there is pressure applied to the nerve by tissue surrounding it. This tissue can be bone or cartilage, muscles or tendons, or swelling within tight places of nerve casings.

Some common causes of soft tissue nerve pressure are injury, poor posture, repetitive jobs, sports, and obesity. A number of pregnant women also experience this ailment as their growing uterus places additional pressure on their body. This pressure is quickly remedied after birth.

Hard tissue pressure can come from a herniated disc or bone spurs from spinal arthritis. Carpal tunnel in the hand area is another common example of pinched nerves. Inflammation in the tunneled wrist area pinches the nerves going through the tunnel and into to the hand. The brain stops receiving signals from the hand and numbness is the primary symptom.

Common symptoms of pinched nerves are pain, numbness, tingling, burning, or hot and cold sensations. In the lower back, a pinched nerve is felt as a numbness running down the leg or even as painful muscle spasms. This same sensation can be felt running from the shoulders through the arms in upper body cases.

Pinched nerves can recover without permanent damage if the pressure is alleviated. This can happen through surgery, change in activity, medications like cortisone, and sometimes even through simple application of hot and cold packs. If the pressure is not relieved, there can be permanent nerve damage and chronic pain.

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Discussion Comments
By Clairdelune — On Oct 17, 2011

I you have a job where you are doing the same hand movements over and over again day after day, you run the risk of getting pinched nerves in your hand and all the way up the carpel tunnel.

Nerves become pinched and irritated in the wrist area. I had this condition because as a teacher I wrote a lot and probably pinched the pencil too tightly. I had numbness, pain and weakness in my fingers and hands.

I wore a brace for a while when I wrote, but finally it got so bad, I had to have surgery. The surgery was quite successful.

By PinkLady4 — On Oct 17, 2011

Pinched nerves in the back can really have far-reaching effects. Probably the worst one is having your leg go numb. I have a friend who has this problem. It is disabling - not knowing if your leg is going to support you.

She has tried exercise and cortisone shots. I think that the treatment that has done the most good is her regular visits to the chiropractor. The manipulation seems to reduce some of the pressure that is pressing against her spinal nerves. She has to continue taking that pressure off so her nerves won't be permanently damaged.

By drtroubles — On Oct 16, 2011

@animegal - I am sorry to hear about your uncle's condition. I also suffer from a pinched nerve, although mine is in my neck. Pinched nerves treatments are never one size fits all and I am sure your uncle's doctors are doing everything they can to help him.

If your uncle is interested in alternative therapies he could go see a chiropractor. Mine did wonders for my neck. Again, it depends on exactly what is wrong with him.

There are also treatments like cold laser therapy which might help him regain some strength. Some of these treatments are expensive though and aren't generally covered by insurance.

By animegal — On Oct 16, 2011

My uncle suffers from pinched back nerves and has had trouble regaining his strength even with treatment. He has weakness in his back and legs which makes it hard for him to work. He underwent cortisone shots in his back and found them to be quite painful.

Are there any pinched nerve remedies that don't require invasive surgical procedures or shots?

I would really like to be able to give my uncle some suggestions on what he can do about the pinched nerve in his spine. You would think that there would be physiotherapy for this kind of thing and pinched nerve exercises that you could do to relieve the pressure on the nerve.

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