What is a Pinched Nerve (Nerve Compression)?
Nerves are extensions of the brain which send important messages across the body. They are crucial to muscle function. When a nerve is compressed or pinched, the nerve will alert you often by a sharp pain or numbness.
A pinched nerve (also known as a compressed nerve), occurs when the bones in your spine or surrounding soft tissue place pressure on a nerve. This could happen as a result of poor posture, a herniated disc, or any repetitive movements that place ongoing strain on your muscles, ligaments and tendons. Sciatica, tennis elbow, and carpal tunnel syndrome are common types of compressed nerve pain.
You’ll typically feel radiating pain, numbness, tingling, muscle weakness or ‘pins and needles’ in the affected area. These sensations range from mild annoyance to intense pain and discomfort.
The most common area for nerve compression includes the neck, back, elbows and wrists.
What Causes Nerve Compression?
Nerve compression is most commonly caused by repetitive strain. Symptoms may occur as a result of repeated movements at work or while working out. Nerve compression is very common and affects people from every age group and due to various activities, ie both sport and work.
An often-seen example these days is overextension of the wrist while typing or using a mouse for hours at work. A repetitive strain injury (RSI) in your wrist places pressure on the median nerve and can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. Tennis, golf and basketball, and any other sports with continuous repetitive activity can similarly overwork your body and cause strain on muscles, ligaments tendons, leading to a pinched nerve.
High contact sports such as footy involve constant aggressive contact to your body, and can compress bones and muscles and constrict a nerve.
Sprains, fractures, and broken bones resulting from an accident can also cause nerve compression syndrome. Other circumstances can trigger or make you more susceptible to nerve compression syndrome. These include: rapid weight gain, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid dysfunction, high blood pressure, pregnancy and menopause.
Common Sites of Nerve Compression
Most nerve compression originates in the neck or back, although the problem can also occur in the arm (tennis elbow) or wrist (carpal tunnel syndrome). Another common example is sciatica, which causes pain in the low back, hip, and leg.
The 6 most common sites of nerve pain include:
- Cervical Spine – a compressed nerve in the neck can result in pain and tingling sensation in the spine, which can travel to the arm and shoulder blade region.
- Arm – tennis elbow
- Carpal tunnel – injury to the median nerve in the wrist
- Sciatic nerve – causes pain in the lower back, hips and leg
- Lateral Femoral Cutaneous Nerve – compression of the sensory nerve in the upper thigh
- Ulnar nerve – caused by leaning on elbows while driving or sitting, also results in golfers elbow.
For more information on the most common issues seen clinically click here.
Nerve Compression Treatment: Is Massage Good?
Depending on the cause of the compression, physical therapy offers safe, effective relief for your symptoms. Remedial massage, myotherapy and pregnancy massage all encourage your muscles to soften, lengthen, and relax. If soft tissues are the cause of your nerve compression, massage can ease some of that painful pressure off the nerve. Your physical therapist will first perform a thorough assessment to identify the location of the compression (sometimes there are two locations). As the majority or nerve compression are caused by tight muscles, massage therapy for nerve compression is extremely effective in easing some of the painful pressure off the nerve. Massaging the tight and shortened muscles, followed by some stretching to re-lengthen them, will lift this compression off the affected nerve.
If you’ve a herniated disc or other underlying condition it’s best to consult your GP to get approval for a massage as part of your treatment plan. While physical therapy will not “fix” a herniated disc (or a similar problem), it can give relief in the meantime – relaxing the affected muscles and taking some of the pressure off the nerve, making it a valuable addition to your recovery plan.
Your therapist will also give you take home exercises to mobilise nerve adherences and relieve pain in between treatments.
If you are experiencing symptoms of nerve compression, it is important to seek treatments as soon as possible – the quicker you receive proper intervention, the less nerve damage will occur. First visit your GP to assess the underlying causes, then on the advice of your GP visit your physical therapist for targeted relief, and an ongoing treatment plan. A single appointment will most likely provide immediate relief but there is no magic bullet for chronic aches and pains. Long term improvements will happen only with ongoing therapy and an active treatment plan.
Book an appointment with a therapist today on 03 8598 9804 or online.
References for this article (Simply Massage, Profusion Rehab, Planet Ayurveda, Faces Spa, Healthline).