A pinched (compressed) nerve is an uncomfortable sensation and numbness caused by increased pressure and compression of nerve that leads to damage and irritation of peripheral nerves. A pinched nerve is mostly associated with back pain and neck injury.
What Are The Causes Of Pinched Nerve?
A pinched nerve occurs due to compression of a nerve mostly in areas where there is less soft tissue such as bone, ligaments and tendons. Pinched nerve in the upper back and neck area is very common due to intricacy of the region as many nerves pass through the area. Pinched nerve could be caused due to poor posture and improper body position (prolonged leaning on elbows), frequent crossing of legs and with time this may lead to pressure injury of nerves in these areas. It is a result of either disc herniation, degenerative changes such as arthritis or autoimmune diseases, hypothyroidism, pregnancy, and repetitive motions such as typing or using certain tools.
The pressure on nerve due to above activities can lead to irritation of nerve or its protective covering (myelin sheath) or both. This causes abnormal nerve conduction leading to numbness. The damage from pinched nerve can be mild or severe and can be temporary or permanent; most of the times reversible, but in some cases can be irreversible.
What Are The Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve In Your Upper Back?
The most common symptom of a pinched nerve in the thoracic spine and cervical spine is numbness and tingling sensation in the upper back or neck region that might also radiate to the arms, shoulders, hands, fingers and upper chest area and is felt as “pins and needles” sensation or a burning sensation. Initially, the sensations are fluctuating, but with time, they become persistent. It may also be accompanied by pain that is typically felt as a sharp or an electric sensation or on occasion’s dull sensation in the middle of the back. The pain might also radiate to the front of the chest, abdomen, shoulders, arms and hands. Pain might also be accompanied by muscle or back spasms along with muscle stiffness in few people. Nerve compression in the cervical/neck region might also cause severe headaches that might be felt on the same side as the numbness or pain. In severe cases, it might lead to muscle weakness leading to decreased contraction of muscles even with enough force or temporary paralysis of muscles below the thoracic spine or cervical spine such as the legs or arms depending on severity of nerve injury. These symptoms typically subside with proper treatment. The common areas of pinched nerve in hands are medial nerve at the wrist causing carpal tunnel and ulnar nerves at the elbows (due to frequent leaning on elbows while sitting or driving) and cervical spine causing pain and tingling in the neck that might radiate to the arms and shoulders.
How Is Pinched Nerve Treated?
The primary aim of treatment of pinched nerve is to reduce the inflammation and release pressure around the nerve. This can be achieved by resting and icing of the area, especially if it is caused by repetitive motion. For cervical pain, neck collars and for carpal tunnel, wrist braces can be used to rest the area and restrict movement of the joints. In the beginning, conservative treatment with anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen is done along with postural correction.
Antispasmodics can also be used if muscle spasms are present. If this does not cure the symptoms then home exercises and/or physical therapy and corticosteroid injections can be opted for. It usually cures the symptoms, but if there is persistence of symptoms then the last resort is surgery to release pressure of the compressed nerve. Nowadays, alternative medicine is also becoming popular and some people prefer to go to a chiropractor or acupuncturist and benefit from the sessions too.
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