A pinched nerve in the neck can be a very debilitating and irritating condition. Often times it causes you to have pain in your neck with numbness and tingling down your arm. This can limit your ability to move your neck pain free and may even cause you to stop participating in some of your favorite activities. The key to treating a pinched nerve is determining where the nerve is being compressed upon and targeting the pain at its root cause. Once you’ve determined what is causing the pinched nerve you can alleviate the pain and start to move pain free again.In this article I will explain what nerves are, the top signs of a pinched nerve, what can cause a pinched nerve and how long it can take to heal.
What is a nerve and what does it do?
Nerves are like the electrical wiring in our bodies. The central command center is the spinal cord and at each level of our spine nerves branch off like little wires and bring the electrical current necessary for us to have the sensation to feel and the ability to move our muscles. Without our nerves we would not be able to move our muscles properly or feel different sensations such as touch, heat, cold, or pin prick.When these nerves get compressed or impinged upon by different structures in our neck then we begin to experience pain and loss of movement in our neck/arm. This can affect our ability to move pain free and enjoy the activities that we love.
What can cause a pinched nerve?
A pinched nerve occurs when there is too much ͞compression͟ on the affected nerve and this can be caused by several factors. This in turn can cause irritation of the nerve and symptoms that come along with it which will discuss later in this article.Some of the most common causes for a pinched nerve include bulging disc, muscle tightness, joint restrictions and posture. It is crucial to undergo a thorough assessment to determine what exactly is causing your nerve to be affected.
- When we sit with poor posture (our head and neck forward with shoulders rounded) we will start to change the way our neck muscles and joint function. This in turn can cause tightness and lack of mobility in the neck. If you turn your head to the right or left and you feel a pinch or tightness then that is a sign that there is restriction in the neck that may be affecting your nerve. When mobility deficits appear, other areas begin to be affected including the nerves that leave the neck. (Picture of poor posture and good posture?).
- Nerves run through our bodies like wiring. They pass through different muscle groups in order to get to their destination. Therefore, if certain muscles in the neck or shoulder area get into spasm or tighten up the nerve in turn will be affected. If you have tightness or stiffness in your neck muscles or shoulder region along with the symptoms of a pinched nerve then there is a good chance that the muscle spasm could be the culprit.
- A bulging disc could be the cause of the nerve pain if you are experiencing pain when looking down for prolonged period of time. People that have occupations where they have to look down at a table or desk often tend to have nerve pain related to a bulging disc in the neck. The good news is that we know through research that if certain steps are taken then that this nerve pain from the bulging disc can be relieved. Often times the disc itself can be healed!
- At each level of our spine in the neck there are holes through which the nerve exits. This is where the nerve branches off the spinal cord and leaves the spine to go to the different muscles in our body. If there is any stiffness or tightness at the joint level where the nerve exits than this can cause irritation upon the nerve. This typically occurs in people in age > 40. There is no need to worry because once the specific joint restriction is identified it can be loosened which relieves pressure off the nerve and restores pain free movement.
Now that we have covered some of the typical ͞causes of a pinched nerve lets take a look at some of the most common signs and symptoms of a pinched nerve:
- Numbness and tingling into the shoulder, arm or hand
- Sharp pinch when turning our head to one side
- Burning into our upper trap muscles
- Radiating pain into the shoulder, arm, or hand
Can a Pinch Nerve be healed?
How long does it take to heal a pinched nerve? Yes! Recovery and healing from a pinched nerve is possible. This depends on several factors including how long you’ve had the pain, how bad the pain is, and how often the pain occurs throughout your typical day. It is important to be able to identify which movements and postures can bring about your pain. Does it occur when you look down for too long? Look to one side or look up? Once you are able to understand which movements or postures cause your pain then you can change how you move to avoid irritating the nerve that is affected. All of these factor matter in regards to healing the particular nerve that is irritated. If the nerve has been irritated for < 2-3 months then it can generally take anywhere from 4- 6 weeks to heal. If the problem has been around > 3 months then it may take longer than the 4-6 week time frame.
The most important concept to understand when thinking about pinched nerves is to identify what activities, movements, and postures aggravate your condition. Once you have figured that out you are one step closer to natural healing and pain free movement!
Dr. Nick Scotto is a leading and trusted physical therapist in Jacksonville, Fl. He founded River City Physical Therapy to better serve the active adults in Jacksonville who want to remain fit, healthy, and happy. Many fitness enthusiasts, runners, and active adults have consulted with Nick looking for a permanent solution to their pain. Through education and specific treatment plans he helps them to heal their body naturally and achieve their goals of returning to the activities they love.