Do you feel like you have a pinched nerve in your neck?
This is a painful and concerning situation, and you may not be sure of what to do about it. It’s important to educate yourself and take care not to injure yourself further.
We’ve compiled this guide to show you what you need to know about having a pinched nerve in your neck. Keep reading to learn how to deal with this situation and make a full recovery.
What Is a Pinched Nerve in Your Neck?
A pinched nerve refers to pain, numbness, or discomfort caused by a damaged or irritated peripheral nerve.
Peripheral nerves are all of the nerves outside the spinal cord and brain. Too much pressure on these nerves can cause them to become “pinched.” Although not all pinched nerves are in the neck – it can also happen in other parts of the body – the neck is one of the most painful places to have one.
Neck injuries and back pain are often related to a pinched nerve in your neck.
Causes of a Pinched Nerve
A pinched nerve happens because of increased compression or pressure on a nerve. Therefore, anything that increases pressure on your nerves can cause a pinched nerve in your neck.
Repetitive motion is a common cause of this issue. However, staying in one position for long periods of time can also cause a pinched nerve. For example, if you sleep in certain positions, you might wake up with a pinched nerve.
Your nerves are most prone to getting pinched at places where there isn’t much soft tissue to cover them as they pass through a narrow space. Pinched nerves often happen because the nerve gets pressed between bones, ligaments, or tendons.
A pinched nerve in your neck can translate to pain in many different parts of your body. For example, pressure on a nerve in your neck near the spine can translate into pain in your arm and shoulder. It can even radiate down as far as your hand.
If the nerve stays pinched for too long, the protective barrier around it may start to break down. Fluid will start to build up in the area, causing swelling, scarring, and even more pressure.
Eventually, the scarring can cause the nerve to stop functioning correctly.
Pinched Nerve Risk Factors
Some people are more susceptible to pinched nerves than others.
Issues in the spine, such as arthritis, bulging discs, and disc herniation is one pinched nerve risk factor. These problems cause pressure on the roots of the nerve, located near the spine. This leads to pain that can translate to many body parts, including the neck.
Water retention and weight gain also make people more vulnerable to pinched nerves. Thyroid diseases, particularly hypothyroidism, often results in the weight gain and water retention associated with a pinched nerve.
Pregnancy and its associated weight gain make pinched nerves more likely, too.
Aside from these health-related risk factors, other pinched nerve risk factors involve lifestyle. For example, if you work at a job that involves repetitive motions, such as grinding espresso and steaming milk in a coffee shop, you may be more likely to develop a pinched nerve.
Pinched Nerve Symptoms
When you have a pinched nerve in your neck, pain may be the only symptom you experience. However, you can also have other symptoms alongside the pain. Sometimes, you won’t have any pain at all, but just the other symptoms.
Pain and radiating pain are the most common issues. Sometimes, the pain in your arm, hand, or fingers can be traced back to a pinched nerve in your neck.
Tingling and numbness is another common symptom. You might experience a burning feeling, or a “pins and needles” feelings as though part of your body is asleep. You may also feel weakness in the area, especially when you try to do certain activities that ask a lot of that part of the body.
Pain associated with a pinched nerve is usually sharp, not dull pain or achiness. Also, this pain will generally occur in just one shoulder, arm, or side of the neck. If you have pain on both sides, the cause is probably something different.
Some movements might make the pain or other symptoms even worse. If the injury was caused by repetitive motions, those motions can become very uncomfortable.
Diagnosing a Pinched Nerve
If you think you may have a pinched nerve, it’s a good idea to seek out a medical professional for a diagnosis.
They’ll give a complete physical exam of the neck and shoulder area to see what’s causing the problem. Based on where your symptoms are coming from, they might be able to tell exactly which nerve is pinched.
Most medical professionals will test your strength, reflexes, and sensation as part of the exam. They might ask you to do certain movements or stretches to figure out where the symptoms stem from.
Tell your doctor any details you can about your pain. Let them know when it started, and if you suspect any cause. If there’s something that makes it hurt less, show them that too. Your doctor will want to know about any recent lifestyle or activity changes.
Sometimes, they’ll give you an x-ray or MRI test to show the root causes of the pinching. If your pinched nerve was caused by an injury, be sure to tell them all about the injury and when it happened.
Treating a Pinched Nerve
The treatment varies depending on the specifics of the case.
Many times, just giving that body part a rest can help. For example, if you have a pinched nerve in your neck, you might need to stop using that arm and shoulder for a while.
If the pain is severe, you might need a more invasive procedure to remove scar tissue or other causes of the pinching. However, these cases tend to be rare, and most pinched nerves aren’t that severe.
Do You Have a Pinched Nerve?
No matter what, if you have a pinched nerve, it’s important to seek professional medical attention.
Physical therapy is one of the best ways to treat a pinched nerve in your neck. If you’re looking for physical therapy services, check out our locations today.