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Treating a Trapped Nerve

6th February 2021

“…Lower back pain. Sometimes I can’t do any physical activities for 4-5 days because of my back pain.” – said ‘willdill’ from a post on Reddit, complaining about the pain he experiences at work.

Willdill’s post is very relatable to much of the working world, one study found that almost half of all adults in the UK suffer from chronic pain.

Chronic pains in your neck, wrist or lower back can really make or break your day, especially if you sit at a desk for most of the day. It can make sitting in the office go from being something you enjoy (let’s be honest…nobody really likes the office, we all just tolerate it) to something that is completely unbearable.

How can you get rid of the pain? Why is it happening to you? Where does it come from?

Well, this answer may shock you, but you may have a pinched nerve….

See, many people who work in an office environment, or manual labour jobs are actually at a higher risk of pinching their nerves; due to the nature of their work.

You’re probably asking yourself now, ‘what the heck is a pinched nerve?’

Look no further! This article will run you through what a pinched nerve is, help you identify if you’re suffering from this condition, how you can get help and some seriously awesome home treatments; so you may not have to go to the doctors after all.

 

What is a Trapped Nerve?

 

Nerves are basically the messengers of your body. They start directly in your brain and run all the way down your spinal cord to all your body parts like your legs, arms, core, etc. Nerves are not only responsible for sending messages from your brain to your body, but vice-versa as well. There are a variety of different nerves from one’s that help you smell, to ones that help you move, to ones that help you feel.

When one of your nerves is experiencing excess pressure, we call this pinching of the nerve and in severe case trapping of the nerve. When your nerve is experiencing excess pressure this can lead to pain and numbness. This pressure can also lead to disruption in the nerve’s function, such as limiting the joint range of motion. If the pressure persists for a long time this may break down the protective layering of the nerve, which causes fluid to build up which leads to even more pressure and potential long-term damage to the nerve.

The degree of severity varies widely with this condition, pinching a nerve may only need changing of daily habits and sometimes physical therapy. On the other hand, a trapped nerve may need surgery and may keep you out of work for a while.

Commonly affected nerves are usually found near the neck, lower back, wrists, feet, and elbows.

More specific names for this condition include Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (wrists), Cubital Tunnel Syndrome (elbows), Sciatica Pain (pelvis), Lumbar Radiculopathy (lower back), etc.

 

 

Causes

 

Why would your nerve become pinched? Or worse yet, trapped?

Great question.

The pressure many times develops because of the result of repetitive motions or due to holding your body in a singular position for extended periods of time. This is most common in office-type jobs, construction, and manual labour jobs. These can also occur to athletes because of their demanding practise and game schedules; which oftentimes include repetitive motions.

Sometimes pressure can develop due to medical conditions that cause inflammation in the body such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, herniation of spinal discs, etc.

Most of the time the compression occurs due to ligament, tendons or bone putting pressure on the nerve itself.

People with the following conditions may be at an increased risk of experiencing a pinched or trapped nerve:

 

  • Woman → they typically experience carpal tunnel more readily

 

  • Pregnancy → water and weight gain associated with child-bearing can potentially pressurize nerves.

 

  • Age-related degenerative diseases → such as Degenerative Disc Disease — a condition that develops naturally with age because of the wear and tear on spinal discs.

 

  • Thyroid disease

 

  • Bone Spurs → a condition in where the bones thicken and at times narrows the space in which your nerves travel between.

 

  • Obesity → typically leads to excess inflammation

 

  • Diabetes → typically leads to excess inflammation

 

 

Prevention

 

There are many preventative measures that can be employed to prevent the pinching of nerves. Here are some of them:

 

  • Maintaining a good posture at all times → while sitting, walking, etc.

 

  • Taking breaks from repetitive activities → if you work an office job, take a walk every once in a while or if you are working manual labour; try to rest as often as possible.

 

  • Start working out → this will allow you to maintain better posture readily, and help keep your weight at a healthy level. Core exercises are particularly important, as well as balancing exercises.

 

  • Use a standing desk → this will help you good posture when working at the office much better versus a conventional desk. Standing desks are especially useful when you have a rollerball for feet, so you can roll out your legs when they cramp.

 

  • Stretching → activities like yoga or similar activities

 

Symptoms

 

Knowing if you have a pinched nerve can be hard to tell at times because sometimes the only indication is pain in the area that is affected.

Here are some common symptoms that people who are experiencing this condition have

 

  • Pain in the affected area

 

  • Numbness or tingling where the area is ‘falling asleep’. You may experience pins and needles or burning sensations

 

  • Referred pain → Random pains in the arm or legs

 

  • Restricted range of motion of the joint nearby affected area

 

  • Muscle weakness

 

Diagnosis

 

If your doctor suspects that you are suffering from a pinched or trapped nerve they may run some tests, such as:

 

  • Nerve Conduction Study → This test measures the electrical impulses that are generated by your nerves

 

  • Various Imaging → such are MRIs, X-Rays or ultrasound

 

Treatment

 

Depending on the severity of your condition it may be treated with physical therapy in conjunction with drugs or may require surgery.

Typically speaking, the usual prescribed treatment for the pinched nerves is rest. The doctor may also prescribe you to wear a brace (such as a cervical collar or wrist guards) on the affected area during the day and sometimes at night (especially in the case of carpal tunnel).

Surgery is usually required for trapped nerves, which may include the removal of scar tissue, disc material or pieces of bone that are stressing the nerve.

Depending on the severity of the condition a variety of drugs may be prescribed including:

 

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) → used to reduce swelling
  • Narcotics → used as temporary pain relief
  • Steroid injections → reduce swelling
  • Oral Corticosteroids → Reduce swelling and pain

 

Your doctor may also prescribe you to have a few visits with a physical therapist. During these visits, the therapist will teach you exercises to alleviate the pain and strengthen your postural muscles.

 

What you can do?

 

Sometimes these conditions can be alleviated by home therapies alone. Exercises such as the ones presented at the bottom can be helpful to improve the condition, especially if the pain is mild. If the pain is severe or has persisted for a long time it may be best to have a doctor check it out.

To get the best results to perform the below exercises at a slow pace, and avoid sudden, fast movements as this may worsen the condition.

The starting position for each exercise doesn’t matter; unless otherwise specified.

With all these exercises you should feel a slight stretching feeling, and you should not feel pain. Only go as far as comfortable. If you feel any pain during any of these exercises it is advised that you stop, look for an alternative exercise or stop completely.

A physical therapist or physiotherapist can demonstrate the best exercise for your condition.

 

 

Exercises and affected area

 

Neck

 

Rollin’ Shoulders

 

Lift your shoulders blades up, and then down.

Repeat this 5 to 7 times.

Then reverse the exercise; moving your shoulder blades from a downwards position and then up.

 

Chin Tuck

 

Roll your head downwards towards your neck.

Gently push your chin down until you appear to have a ‘double chin’.

Hold for 5 seconds.

Repeat 5 to 7 times.

 

Wrists

 

Shake it off (Not the Taylor Swift song I assure you…)

 

Yeah, it’s really that simple.

Just shake your hands a couple of times and then repeat. This is especially useful in the case of carpal tunnel, try these in the morning.

 

Fist to Stop Sign

 

Make a fist, like you are going to punch something. (If you can’t imagine that; just imagine your spouse being annoying, that should do the trick)

Open up your hand, spreading your fingers, as if you are saying stop.

Repeat 5 -10 times.

 

Elbows

 

Strong Man Bicep

 

Hold one arm out parallel, 90 degrees from your body.

Now bring your arm to near your head, as if you are doing a bicep flexing position. (Try to give your best bodybuilder impression)

Repeat 5 to 7 times.

 

Soup Please

 

Sit on a chair with your back in a straightened upright position.

Hold out your hands in front of your body, with your hands open as if you are carrying soup.

Now flex your arms, bringing them near your face, as if you are stuffing the soup in your mouth. (Yum, Yum, Yum)

Repeat 5 to 10 times.

 

Lower Back

 

Knee to Opposite shoulder

 

Lay down flat on your back, your feet, glutes, upper back and head should have contact with the ground.

Bring one of your knees up to your chest, with the aid of both your hands.

Use both hands to take your knee across to the opposite side of your chest.

Repeat with your other leg.

Repeat 5 to 7 times

 

Standing Hamstring Stretch

 

Bring a chair, preferably one where the sitting height is tall enough to reach your hip.

Put 1 leg up on the chair; ideally, your leg should be perpendicular to your body.

Use both your hands to reach to your foot.

Repeat with your other leg.

Repeat 5 to 7 times

 

Foot

 

Tap, Tap, Tap

 

Stand with both your feet planted firmly on the ground.

Raise your toes, while keeping your heels on the ground.

Repeat 5 to 7 times

 

Ball Rolling

 

Stand with both your feet planted firmly on the ground.

Get a tennis ball and roll out one of your feet for several minutes. Rolling out consists of rolling the bottom of your foot across, from the front of your heel to right before your toes.

Switch feet.

 

Other Home therapies

 

In conjunction with these above exercises you can one or multiple of these therapies:

 

  • Rest the affected area as much as possible.
  • Yoga
  • Massage the affected area → not too vigorously though.
  • Learning and practising good posture → will be made easier with regular exercise.
  • Hot and cold therapies to affected areas → do not expose your skin directly to the heat or ice pack.

 

Conclusion

 

The above exercise and treatments may help with your condition. Be aware to do these exercises slowly, gently and stop if there is any pain. You can also try some of the above therapies in conjunction with over the counter pain relief medications such as Advil or Ibuprofen.

If your pain worsens or persists for months on end, it is recommended to seek counsel from a doctor. It is preferable that you write down any specific symptoms you are experiencing and come with any questions you may like to ask the doctor.

Hopefully, these above recommendations help make your working day return to the joy it once was (kidding), or at least tolerable again. Now don’t fall for the same trick twice, start taking preventative measures like exercise and getting a standing desk; so you won’t have to deal with a pinched nerve ever again!