Weakness in the arms or hands, shooting pain into the arms, hands and fingers, and neck pain: these are all possible symptoms of a pinched nerve in the neck. What causes this pain & what can we do?
Why do nerves get pinched?
Nerves typically get "pinched" from irritation to the spine, muscles, or surrounding discs. A quick way to explain or understand a pinched nerve is - bone putting pressure on nerve. When you go to you chiropractor and say "doc ,I think I have a misaligned neck and it pinching my nerve". That is not exactly true. Technically, the spine shifts out of place and gets stuck. This lack of motion causes inflammation to build up to; that's what's really compressing the nerve.
Also the nerve can get pinched along the course your body including:
You can get different syndromes based on where the pinching is: carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome, thoracic outlet syndrome and herniated disk.
What symptoms are associated with having a pinched nerve?
Ok, so now the nerve is compromised... Anywhere that nerve travels, you can get symptoms there. Let's say it's in the lower neck - you may get neck pain, elbow pain, even pain into the fingers. Not only that, wherever the pressure is, meaning which fibers in the nerve or nerve root have the most pressure, will determine what sensation you may feel. You might get pain, but you might also have, numbness, tingling, burning,etc.
Keep in mind, a nerve root always has three components that will be affected: muscle strength, sensory and reflex. When you get examined thoroughly, the neurological exam will include this. They will check your muscle strength on the right and left side. They will check your reflexes with a reflex hammer, and they will check sensory differences: Do you feel it differently on one side compared to the other side. For this they may use an instrument called a pinwheel.
What can we do at home to treat a pinched nerve ?
The first thing to do is try to reduce inflammation. We now know that that is typically our major culprit. The best thing for this is ice therapy. I often recommend 15 to 20 minutes on with the ice then 20 minutes off, and repeat 3 times. Use a ice pack that will give you good coverage. For example arc4life's trisectional hot and cold pack (dimensions of 11"x 15") provides coverage for the neck, shoulders and the upper back back area. You can use the cold pak for seated positions and for lying down, which is convenient. The Ice pack is a little heavier, but it works very effectively. Don't forget to put a towel in between your skin and the cold pack.
Next, is muscle massage. This also helps to allow inflammation to dissipate by breaking up any adhesion or taut fibers in the muscles. Once, things start to feel better you can use heat and do some muscle stretches to. Start with some easy half neck rolls to the front and half rolls to the back. You can also put the neck through its ranges of motion: flex, extend, laterally bend to each side, and turn to each side. Using a self massager such as a theracane can assist with painful points in the neck, shoulders and upper back.
Last, use something to work at correcting alignment. I often have patient's get a cervical pillow like the arc 4 life traction pillow.
Should you get a regular support pillow or an extra firm one?
We recommend that you get a regular support pillow. In the case of the arc4life pillow - the regular support pillow has two sides to it - a softer side and a firmer size. Both of which are comfortable. When you are suffering with a pinched nerve, you will most likely start by sleeping on the gentler neck roll side just because it is easier to do so. Incidentally, the arc4life traction pillow also comes in a extra firm verison as well (for those customers who like a more firmer support)
What are some Treatment Choices for a pinched nerve ?
- neck stretcher (neck traction)
- neck exercises
- physical therapy
- changed my pillow
- pain medication
- pain injection
- heat therapy or cold therapy
2 stretching devices that are Recommended
Here are two neck traction units that can help with a pinched nerve in the neck: 1) Pronex Pneumatic Traction Unit 2) Posture Pump 1000 Cervical traction
Who to call when the pinched nerve pain does not go away?
After trying things at home you feel like pain still creeps up on occasion. Time to call a professional! In other words, see the doctor. You can see you medical doctor - he or she will often prescribe you something. Maybe an anti-inflammatory, painkiller, or muscle relaxer. This may help to get you feeling better quick. These medications are not meant for you to take long term.
Many patients opt to see their chiropractor first. They are the main professional that deals with "pinched nerves" on a regular basis. If your MD is an osteopath they may do manipulations as well. Sometimes you can even go to a physical therapist. If the nature of you pain more muscular than certain exercises and stretches may help the most. You may also want to see a massage therapist. Really for the same reason; if muscle work is going to help the most, see someone who knows what to do.
Additional Reading Resources
- Traction Products to Help with Neck Stretching
- A Closer look at how the Posture Pump 1000 works to relieve nerve pressure
- For Chronic Neck Pain, Try the Arc4life Traction V Neck Pillow
- C6: The most common disc herniation in the c spine
- Our Whole Spine works together like a kinetic chain
- Best Pillow for Neck Pain - A Neck Pillow Guide