Pinched nerves resulting in a pain is not a common symptom. Pinched nerve is most often caused by foraminal stenosis. The foraminal stenosis in neck causes symptom in neck and upper extremity.1 Pinched nerve when localized in mid chest causes pain in back of the chest and front of chest as well as abdominal wall. Similarly, pinched nerve in lower back causes pain over lower back, buttock and lower leg.2 Pinch nerve pain is also known as radicular pain. Spinal nerve is formed by sensory and motor nerve fibers. Sensory nerve fiber carries signal of pain, touch and temperature sensation from peripheral tissue to spinal cord. Motor nerve fiber carries signal from brain to peripheral muscles. The sensory and motor nerve fibers form spinal nerve. Sensory nerve fibers lie in outer section of spinal nerve and motor nerve lies in inner section. The superficial pinch of spinal nerve causes symptoms of pain and numbness. Further pinch affects motor nerve and causes weakness of muscles. If pinched nerve is not untreated then individual may suffer with symptoms of pain, tingling, numbness and weakness of muscles. The superficial pinch causes irritation of sensory nerve fibers that causes symptoms like pain and tingling. Such symptoms of pinched nerve often respond to conservative treatment. In few cases in addition to conservative treatment for pinched nerve, individuals are also considered for massage therapy and over the counter pain medications.
What Happens If You Let A Pinched Nerve Go Untreated?
- Irreversible sensory and motor nerve damage
- Chronic pain
- Prolonged tingling and numbness
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle paralysis
Prolonged Sensory Symptoms-
Pinched nerve presents with initial symptoms of pain and numbness along with pins and needles sensation.3 Such symptoms of pinched nerve may be irreversible if pressure is not removed soon. Continuation of pinched nerve causes constriction of blood vessels that supplies blood to sensory nerve fibers. Prolonged lack of blood supply causes ischemic changes in nerve. Ischemia of sensory nerve eventually causes degeneration of sensory and motor nerve fibers. One should see a primary care physician or specialist when sensory symptoms like pain, tingling and numbness does not respond to conservative treatment in 48 to 72 hours.
Initial pinch often irritates superficial pain fibers and causes symptoms like pain. If the symptom is ignored, then nerve retains fluid and swells. The condition is also known as nerve edema. Nerve edema causes irritation or pinch of deeper sensory nerve that carries sensory symptoms like touch and temperature. If pressure is not relieved or nerve edema is not treated with anti-inflammatory medication, then individual continue feeling symptoms of pain and numbness. If such discomfort persists and you fail to see a doctor; you face the possibility of slow, long lasting and even irreversible damage.
If you are wondering what happens if you let a pinched nerve go untreated, the main concern could be muscle atrophy. Pressure, compression and constriction of the sensory nerves can result in blockage to the flow of blood to the nerve. Such blockade causes lack of blood flow to entire depth of spinal nerve. Lack of blood flow to spinal nerve is also known as ischemic changes. Nerve does not get oxygen and nutrients when nerve ischemia occurs. This can lead to severe damage of motor nerve fibers. The motor nerve fiber damage causes muscle atrophy which is almost always the case when nerve is severely pinched. Severe pinched nerve does not heal by themselves when left untreated. Muscle atrophy can lead to loss of strength in the arms, legs, back or any other affected area of the body. Muscle weakness can have a substantial impact on motor functions and mobility. Advanced and untreated cases of pinched nerve almost always result in limited motor functions and mobility for the afflicted.
Irreversible Damage of Spinal Nerve-
Spinal nerve pinch for prolonged period of time lasting over one to three weeks causes degenerative changes of sensory and motor nerve fibers. Initial symptoms observed are pain when superficial pain sensory nerve fibers are irritated or pinched. If pinch continues then next deeper sensory fibers are pinched, and then motor nerve fibers.
Motor nerve lies in the deeper section of spinal nerve. Prolonged pinched spinal nerve causes total spinal nerve degeneration. Such changes in entire depth of spinal nerve causes pain, numbness and weakness. The weakness of muscles frequently follows muscle paralysis. Muscle paralysis is restricted to muscles that is supplied by the spinal nerve which is pinched.
Thus, pain, numbness, tingling sensations, burning sensations and muscle weakness gets worse if you let a pinched nerve go untreated. Chronic pain has a substantial effect on both physical and emotional health and often times leads to dependency on over the counter painkillers.
Degeneration of Spinal Nerve and Irreversible Damage-
A pinched nerve in the spine when left untreated can present even more complications. This variation of pinched nerve can lead to permanent and irreversible nerve damage if not treated on time. The lack of blood flow to the spinal nerve causes degenerative changes in spinal nerve. Such changes results in irreversible damages of sensory and motor nerve fibers. Symptoms are irreversible when nerve is permanently damaged. The symptoms are distributed in dermatome that is supplied by spinal nerve. Such irreversible symptoms are observed in any section of spine that includes neck, mid back and lower back. Most pinched nerve occurs in spinal foramina or spinal canal. Rarely more than one spinal nerve is pinched. Such condition causes wide spread symptoms of pain, numbness and weakness in muscles. Wide spread symptoms then interfere with daily activities. Loss of muscle control and function of the body part or organ is a serious complication. In case if pinched nerves goes untreated, it can affect the function of neck, arms and upper body. In case of lower back and legs, if you let a pinched nerve go untreated, it can affect the lower limbs function and even the bowel, bladder function, in severe cases. The lumbar spinal nerve also carries parasympathetic nerve fibers to lower bowel and urinary bladder.
In conclusion; there are many effective ways to treat a peripheral or spinal pinched nerve. If the compressed or constricted nerve does not correct itself in a few days; a doctor’s attention is mandatory. If the pinched nerve does not heal or is not treated in time, long term pain and discomfort is expected and permanent and irreversible nerve damage is quite possible.
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Uncinate Process Area as a New Sensitive Morphological Parameter to Predict Cervical Neural Foraminal Stenosis.
Lumbar foraminal stenosis, the hidden stenosis including at L5/S1.
Orita S1, Inage K2, Eguchi Y3, Kubota G4, Aoki Y4, Nakamura J2, Matsuura Y2, Furuya T2, Koda M2, Ohtori S2., Eur J Orthop Surg Traumatol. 2016 Oct;26(7):685-93. doi: 10.1007/s00590-016-1806-7. Epub 2016 Jun 18.
Clinical Reasoning: A 60-year-old man with arm weakness and numbness.