Similar to the intricate and extensive road systems you use while transporting goods across the country to various destinations, your nerves follow an intricate and extensive pathway from your brain and spinal cord throughout your body, carrying the electrical impulses required for normal body functions.
On the highway, when roads are closed or lanes are reduced, the traffic flow is greatly affected. In your body, when a nerve becomes compressed or pinched, your body’s efficiency is noticeably impacted, causing pain, tingling, numbness or weakness.
Nerves most often become pinched in narrowed areas between ligaments, tendons or bone, where there is limited soft tissue to act as protective cushioning. Some typical locations are: the lower spine due to a herniated disc, leading to sciatica; the neck, leading to pain and weakness in the shoulder, elbow, hand and/or fingers; and the wrist, leading to carpal tunnel syndrome. The typical symptoms – numbness, tingling, radiating pain, aching/burning pain, pins-and-needles sensation, and weakness – may worsen when you move the area where the nerve is pinched.
The resulting damage may be minor or severe; temporary or long-lasting. If a nerve is pinched for only a short time, usually no permanent damage occurs – once the pressure is relieved, nerve function returns to normal. However, if the pressure continues, chronic pain and permanent nerve damage can occur, since the protective barrier around the nerve can break down, leading to swelling, additional pressure and scarring, which can permanently interfere with nerve function.
Fortunately, most people recover from a pinched nerve within a few days or weeks following rest and other conservative treatments, which include: NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen) to reduce swelling; oral corticosteroids to reduce swelling and pain; narcotics (for brief usage only) to reduce severe pain; corticosteroid injections to reduce swelling and allow inflamed nerves to recover; a splint or soft collar to limit motion, support and allow muscles to rest; and/or physical therapy to stretch and strengthen muscles.
In severe cases, when the pain is unmanageable or the symptoms persist, your doctor may recommend other treatment options to shrink the swollen tissue around the nerve, or to remove the material pressing against the nerve (scar tissue, disc material, cartilage, tendon, ligament, or bone fragments).
A number of conditions may increase your risk of experiencing a pinched nerve, such as: age; sedentary lifestyle; injuries; prolonged sitting; obesity; pregnancy; thyroid disease; diabetes; rheumatoid/wrist arthritis; as well as occupations/hobbies/sports requiring repetitive hand, wrist or shoulder movements, including truck driving; gender – women are more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, possibly due to having smaller carpal tunnels; history of bone spurs – trauma or conditions that cause bone thickening, which narrows the space surrounding your nerves; and/or rheumatoid arthritis – resulting inflammation compresses joint nerves.
Taking the following steps can help avoid the painful experience of a pinched nerve: Maintain a healthy weight and diet. Watch your posture. When sitting, adjust your seat to keep your knees and hips at an even level. Ensure the seat has appropriate lumbar support or drive with a lumbar support pillow or rolled towel behind the small of your back. Balance your armrests. Frequently shift position to avoid sitting stationary for a long time. When sitting outside your rig, avoid crossing your legs. When engaged in repetitive motion tasks, alternate your movements and take frequent breaks. Follow a regular exercise program with strength and flexibility activities.
As well, practice good body mechanics. When standing for long periods, occasionally elevate one foot to rest on a skid or small box. When lifting something heavy, move straight up and down, keeping your back straight and bending only at the knees. Let your lower extremities carry the weight. Hold the load close to your body.
Avoid lifting and twisting simultaneously and use a lifting partner for awkward objects.
Take the pressure off. Don’t let it get on your nerves.
Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant, and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.