What most people would assume is a pinched nerve is more commonly inflammation or swelling around the nerve. A true pinched nerve happens when disks, bone or ligaments compresses or restricts blood flow to the nerve. This interferes with the signal the nerve sends and receives.
Whether pinched or inflamed you may feel burning or electrical shock sensations with pain that shoots down the arms or upper back. You also may feel numbness, tingling or pins and needles. You can start by treating at home with ice and over-the-counter medications to reduce the inflammation and swelling.
When to see a doctor
Go in if symptoms continue for more than a week or get worse, such as having weakness, losing strength in your arm or feeling numbness in your arm or hand.
Sometimes when there’s problems in your neck, you can get symptoms in your legs,” said David Smith, M.P.T., Marshfield Clinic Health System physical therapist. “If you have loss of bowel or bladder control or have weakness in your legs you should come in and see a doctor.”
Recovery time is variable. If you have only inflammation, it resolves itself faster with home treatments and anti-inflammatory medications like Advil. When there’s restriction to the nerve, symptoms can last a couple of days to a month or longer.
Physical therapists apply traction, nerve gliding or mobilization to get blood flowing to the area and promote healing. “When you come in, we’ll start by looking at the cause. Then we’ll work to decrease the symptoms and treat your pain,” Smith said.
Good posture is key
One of the best things to help is addressing your posture. Slouched posture puts more pressure on the neck nerves. Sitting with good posture allows blood to flow freely to the nerves.
Be aware of anything repetitive where you are looking up and tipping your head back. This can occur when you are working at a computer or even riding a bike with a bent over posture and your head up.
Working for extended periods of time with your arms over your head, heavy lifting, and pushing or pulling puts strain on the neck. “Things like pulling starter cords on lawn mowers or snowmobiles and jarring or impacts from motorcycles and ATVs can be aggravating.” Smith said.
If you are experiencing neck pain, contact your doctor.