What Does a Pinched Nerve Feel Like?

There are nerves within the brain and spinal cord that extend out to the periphery of the body, sending signals to various parts of the body. Then what does a pinched nerve feel like? If you are suffering from pinched nerves or nerve compression, you may experience some pain. This is a symptom you shouldn't ignore. There can be minor or severe damage from a pinched nerve in your body and it can result in temporary or lasting medical problems. The sooner you get diagnosed and treated for a pinched nerve, the faster you will get relief.

What Does a Pinched Nerve Feel Like?

The symptoms you experience from a pinched nerve depend on the affected nerve. There are numerous nerves that have different responsibilities in sending information from the body or sending information to the body.

Common symptoms of a pinched nerve include:

  • Pain in the area the nerve travels to.
  • Numbness in the affected area.
  • Tingling or a sense of having pins and needles in the area the nerve is affected.
  • A musculoskeletal weakness in the muscles innervated by the nerve.
  • A sense that the body part has fallen asleep.
  • Neck pain or stiffness if the pinched nerve is in the neck. There can be pain traveling down the affected arm.
  • A pinched nerve in the area of the lower back can result in back pain and symptoms extending down your leg. The part of the leg affected determines which nerve is being pinched.
  • Pinching of the nerve in the wrist is known as carpal tunnel syndrome. It affects the index finger and the fingers up to the fourth finger as well as the thumb and the palm of the hand.
  • A pinched nerve near the elbow can be caused by cubital tunnel syndrome. In this condition, the pain extends down the forearm, part of the fourth finger and the pinkie finger of the hand.
  • A pinched nerve in the upper back can give symptoms of pain along the trunk where the nerve travels around the thorax and waist. Pain can be felt in the upper back as well as along the path of the affected nerve, such as the arms and around the chest wall.

How to Diagnose a Pinched Nerve

After knowing "What does a pinched nerve feel like?" you may suspect that you are suffering from it. Use the following diagnosing methods to figure things out.

1. Physical Examination

The doctor will ask about your medical history and examine your back, including your neck, mid-back and lower back. The doctor will also examine your muscles and sensation of your extremities to look for any weakness, numbness and tingling. The doctor may also have you perform some movement about the neck and back to see if your symptoms can be recreated or resolved.

2. X-Ray

An x-ray can show whether or not the bones are in proper alignment or if they are narrowed in any place which could indicate pinched nerve. X-rays cannot tell everything about the back but may give the doctor an idea of arthritic changes or other findings indicating a pinched nerve.

3. CT Scan

A CT scan of the back is a better test than x-rays. It can take a look at your back for bone spurs that may be blocking the nerve foramen anywhere along the back. It uses a computer and x-rays to identify bony structures in 3 dimensions.

4. MRI Scan

Magnetic resonance imaging or MRI scans are good for detecting abnormalities of the soft tissue of the back. For example, it can help you if you have a pinched nerve in the back because of a disc being ruptured in the back. Ruptured intervertebral discs can cause pinching of the nerve anywhere along the back.

5. EMG

EMG, also called electromyography, measures the amount of electrical impulses going to the muscles during the muscle's resting state and when it is contracting. This is often done along with nerve conduction studies to see if a nerve is being pinched and isn't sending normal signals to the affected nerve. These two tests together can help identify whether the symptoms are due to a pinched spinal nerve or due to damage to the nerve, such as in cases of diabetic neuropathy.

How to Treat a Pinched Nerve

Now that you know "what does a pinched nerve feel like?" and how to diagnose it, you may want to know how this sort of problem is treated. Pinched nerve happens when there is compression or direct pressure on the nerve which disenables it to send the normal signal to the body. Simply resting the back or other injured area can relieve swelling and feel better. If this doesn't work, the doctor may need to intervene with other forms of treatment, including the following:

1. Common Treatments

Besides rest to the affected area, the doctor may ask you to refrain from doing anything that makes the symptoms worse. You may need to have a brace or splint on the affected area, such as those needed in carpal tunnel syndrome.

2. Physical Therapy

You may need to be referred to a physical therapist in order to learn exercises that help the muscles stretch out and become stronger. This can relieve the pressure on the affected nerves. The physical therapist may also recommend behavioral modifications so you don't make the pinched nerve worse.

4. Medications

Typical medications for a pinched nerve include the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, including aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen. This can reduce the pain and inflammation associated with having a pinched nerve. Steroid injections can be done around the nerve or oral prednisone can be used to reduce inflammation and pain.

5. Surgery

If several weeks go by and your symptoms are not resolved, surgery may be necessary to relieve the pressure on the nerve. The surgery you need depends on where the pinched nerve is located. It may involve removing bone spurs or removing a portion of a herniated disc. If the pinched nerve is in the carpal tunnel, a carpal tunnel release is in order.

6. Prevention

You can do things to prevent a pinched nerve beforehand, such as keeping a good posture, limiting repetitive motion activities, losing weight, and doing flexibility and strengthening exercises as part of a regular program of exercises. 

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