Causes & Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve in the Neck

A diagnosis of a pinched nerve is a common one. Adults and the elderly are more prone to this problem but even children call fall victim to this painful condition. The neck and leg are the most common spots for a pinched nerve to occur.

What causes this problematic condition and how can you tell if you are suffering from a pinched nerve?

When we say a nerve in the neck is “pinched” we actually mean that it has been compressed. This can be due to pressure, constriction or stretching. When a nerve is compressed in this manner, it causes a great deal of pain. The pain upon movement of the neck can be excruciating.

If a nerve is compressed, the fluid it needs does not flow properly. It can become restricted or blocked. Lack of fluids can cause the membrane around the nerve to degenerate. If the membrane is not there to protect the nerve, the cells may cease to function.

Finding the exact cause of the pinched nerve is essential to diagnosis and subsequent treatment. Here are a few of the common causes.

• Poor posture while working.
• Poor positioning while sleeping.
• Slipped or herniated disc.
• Obesity.
• Injuries.
• Sports activities.
• Exercising with improper form.
• Stress, both physical and mental.
• Osteoarthritis and damaged joints.
• Extreme activities like bungee jumping or skydiving.
• Repetitive actions.
• Heavy lifting.
• Trauma, as in a car accident.
• Aging.
• Degenerative disc disease.

The symptom that gets most patients’ attention is, of course, pain. However there may be some other symptoms that are a bit more subtle.

• Headaches.
• Back aches.
• Muscle spasms in the neck, the shoulders or the back.
• Stiffness in the neck.
• Nausea.
• Vomiting.
• Dizziness.
• Pain in adjoining areas, like the jaw.
• Numbness when the area surrounding the nerve is compressed.
• Prickling “pins and needles” sensation in the affected area.
• Pain radiating outwards to the hands or fingers.
• Pain while chewing, sneezing, coughing or yawning.

Symptoms will vary greatly from patient to patient and may present in any combination. Depending on the cause and the area affected, the symptoms can be very different. Since a pinched nerve is so painful and because it can cause degeneration of the nerve cells, it must be treated promptly. Fast attention may minimize the damage.

A physician must first diagnose a pinched nerve in the neck before treatment can begin. He or she may order an X-ray, a CT scan or an MRI to assess the condition of the bones and soft tissues. Once he or she has evaluated the problem, the doctor may prescribe some of the following treatments.

• Applying heat and ice alternately.
• Over-the-counter balms or ointments.
• Avoiding vigorous activities and allowing the neck to rest.
• Gentle stretching and exercises, under a physician’s guidance.
• Physical therapy.
• Neck braces or support collars to immobilize the neck.
• Over-the-counter pain killers and anti-inflammatory medications.
• Prescription pain medication and/or muscle relaxers.
• Corticosteroid injections.
• Surgery to release the pressure maybe required but is rarely used and then only in the most severe cases.

Serious complications can arise from leaving a pinched nerve untreated. If you have persistent pain and swelling lasting more than a few hours, contact your doctor.

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