How to fix a pinched nerve: complete guide

How to fix a pinched nerve

Comprehensive guide on how to fix a pinched nerve covers explanation, range of symptoms, treatment, causes, and when to see a doctor.

Find more health guides, tips and advice

If a nerve is pinched, pain-free movement is hardly possible. But how does a nerve get pinched? How to fix a pinched nerve?  And can you prevent a pinched nerve?

  • What is a pinched nerve?  A functional impairment of the nerve, triggered by too much pressure on a nerve from the surrounding tissue.  
  • Symptoms: Sudden, burning and stabbing pain, numbness or tingling in the supply area of ​​the affected nerve.
  • Treatment:  Chiropractic, physiotherapy or osteopathy can be used in the treatment.
  • Causes: Often muscle hardening, but also herniated discs or carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Prognosis : With the right therapy, the chances are good that the symptoms will disappear completely.

How does it feel when a nerve is pinched?

A pinched nerve can be very painful. The stabbing and burning pain occurs suddenly and increases with movement. The complaints occur directly at the damaged area and in the area supplied by the nerve. When a nerve is pinched, one might at first think that an incorrect movement is causing a nerve to be pinched and crushed between the bones. 

But this is not the case. Rather, muscles and tissues are responsible for pinching a nerve. Because the nerve is disturbed in its function when surrounding tissue exerts too much pressure on it. The human body is pervaded by innumerable nerve fibers. It connects every corner of our body to the brain or spinal cord. 

Nerves can be roughly divided into two groups: the muscular nerves (motor nerves) and the sensory nerves. The main function of nerves is to conduct signals, so-called stimulus conduction. If a nerve is pinched, it can lead to disturbances in the conduction of stimuli or even complete failure. 

The Symptoms of a pinched nerve thus depend on the type of nerve affected:  paralysis  occurs when motor nerves are pinched,  numbness, tingling, or even dizziness and vomiting when sensitive nerves are affected. If the impulse conduction of a motor nerve is completely interrupted, no more signals reach the muscles, the result is a temporary paralysis and you should as soon as possible follow the guide for how to fix a pinched nerve.

How to fix a pinched nerve: what to do?

If you have the feeling that a nerve may have become trapped, it is important to know how to fix a pinched nerve so you can react accordingly immediately in order to alleviate the symptoms if necessary:

  • Even if it might be difficult, stay for a few minutes in the exact position in which the pain occurred.
  • Stay calm and breathe in and out evenly.
  • Do not try to force the painful area off.

How how long does it take?

Since the most common cause of a pinched nerve is muscle hardening, it can often be resolved with light, careful movements. Above all, gymnastic exercises such as pelvic circles, but also stretching exercises can relieve the pain. In addition to physical exercises, manual therapies such as chiropractic, physiotherapy or osteopathy can also be used in the treatment. Acupuncture, relaxation exercises and heat applications are also suitable for loosening and relaxing the muscles. A self-massage can help you get a trapped nerve under control. How long a pinched nerve causes pain and symptoms varies from person to person and depends on the severity and cause of the nerve narrowing.

What are the causes of a pinched nerve?

Tense muscles, a bad posture, a wrong sleeping position or sometimes a simple wrong movement are often the cause of a nerve becoming trapped. The hardened tissue presses on the nerve and triggers the symptoms. These muscle hardening occur more frequently in the shoulder, neck and neck area in people who mainly sit down. If a nerve is trapped,  the nerve irritation may be the result of a problem that has been progressing for a long time.

How to fix a pinched nerve: recognize the most common causes

  • Herniated disc: The intervertebral discs are a kind of shock absorber for our spine. They lie between the vertebrae, protect them and also ensure the mobility of the spine. These gel cushions lose their strength and wear out with increasing age or due to long-term heavy loads. In the case of a  herniated disc  , the soft core (gelatinous core) of the intervertebral disc emerges due to cracks and presses on the surrounding tissue and on the neighboring nerves. One possible consequence is  severe pain in the back, especially when moving. Depending on how severely the nerve conduction is impaired, it can lead to numbness and even paralysis. This affects those areas that are supplied by the nerve. Herniated discs most often occur in the area of ​​the lower spine (lumbar vertebrae).
  • Pinched Sciatic Nerve:Strictly speaking, the sciatic nerve is a bundle of thousands of nerve pathways. In the area of ​​the lumbar spine, this bundle of nerves leaves the spinal canal, divides into two strands and runs through the legs to the toes. This makes it the longest nerve in our body. Sciatica pain – known medically as sciatica – usually begins in the hip and buttock area, but it can spread to the foot. Often the pain is caused by a slipped disc pressing on the sciatic nerve. When the nerve becomes pinched, it sends out pain signals. Most of the time, only one leg is affected in sciatica; in rare cases, both legs are affected. Some people have only slight pain, while others can hardly move and only with pain.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome: If symptoms such as pain in the forearms (especially at night) and numbness or tingling in the fingers occur, especially in the first three fingers (thumb, index finger and middle finger), these are  indicators of carpal tunnel syndrome. The carpal tunnel is located on the inside of the wrists. It is formed by the carpal bones, which are spanned by a ligament of connective tissue. It serves as a passage for the tendons and the nerve in the palm of the hand. Due to various causes, for example injuries, diseases of the tendon sheaths, or overuse, the tunnel can narrow, thereby pinching the nerve. A typical restriction of movement in carpal tunnel syndrome is the so-called bottle sign: the thumb can no longer be spread far enough to grip a bottle, for example.
  • Narrowed vertebral canal: Our spinal cord traverses the spine in a type of tunnel called a vertebral canal. On the one hand, this channel is supposed to protect the nerves, on the other hand, it also becomes a trap when problems occur. Such a problem arises, for example, when the spinal canal becomes too narrow. The nerves are compressed and can become pinched. If the spinal canal is narrowed, the doctor speaks of a spinal canal stenosis. This can be congenital or age-related.

What can a doctor do to treat a pinched nerve?

First, see your GP. He can refer you to a specialist, usually an orthopedic surgeon, and prepare a professional therapy. If pain suddenly occurs together with a tingling sensation or numbness and paralysis, the doctor must first determine whether this is a harmless muscle hardening that has trapped the nerve, or whether the nerve is seriously damaged due to other causes. 

You can support the doctor in making the correct diagnosis by describing the symptoms as precisely as possible: Where exactly is the pain? When did the pain first start? Which movements trigger pain? What kind of pain are you in? By palpating the muscles, the doctor can determine whether you have hardened muscles, thereby pinching a nerve. 

The nerve is tensed or relaxed by bending and stretching the joints. If a nerve is pinched and then tightened further, the symptoms worsen. For example, you will then have more pain or the tingling sensation increases.

If a hardened muscle is the cause of the pinched nerve, no further diagnosis is usually necessary. If there is a suspicion that the symptoms are caused by a more serious cause, such as a narrowing of the spinal canal, for example due to a herniated disc, further investigations may follow. 

For example, the doctor can determine the type of nerve fibers affected by measuring the nerve conduction velocity (NLG) and also determine the degree of damage. Electromyography (EMG) is used to check the conduction of the muscles.

When is surgery necessary?

Surgery to treat a pinched nerve is avoided whenever possible. However, if treatment with medication does not improve the condition even after weeks or months, or if there is a risk of permanent nerve damage, surgery is sometimes necessary. 

The aim of this operation is to free the nerve from its constriction. In the case of carpal tunnel syndrome, for example, the connective tissue that closes the tunnel is cut. If the sciatic nerve is trapped by a defective intervertebral disc, this is surgically repaired or removed and replaced with a prosthesis.

How can you prevent a pinched nerve? The 7 best tips

If you have a particular job, you may be at increased risk of a pinched nerve. Sedentary activities (such as driving a truck or taxi, office work) or those that involve intense physical exertion (such as construction workers, craftsmen) or monotonous movements (for example on the assembly line) are particularly at risk. 

People who are overweight, have a  sedentary lifestyle, are  stressed, have bad posture or posture and put too much strain on the spine also run the risk of contracting a pinched nerve. You can influence many of these risk factors yourself – and thus prevent a pinched nerve!

  1. Eat a healthy and balanced diet with lots of vegetables and fruits, but little meat.
  2. Pay attention to your normal weight.
  3. Exercise regularly and avoid relieving your posture – go for a walk every day and look for a sport that you enjoy and is good for your “musculoskeletal system”, for example swimming or cycling.
  4. Strength training, in which you specifically strengthen your back and abdominal muscles, stabilizes your core and can help prevent pinched nerves.
  5. Maintain a healthy posture. Ask your doctor or physiotherapist about this.
  6. Ask your doctor or health insurance company about offers for back training.
  7. Avoid repetitive monotonous movements.