What is actually happening when we talk about a ‘pinched nerve’

by May 20, 2019

Cervical or lumbar radiculopathy or also referred to as a ‘pinched nerve’ refers to when a nerve is irritated or compressed as it passes through the tunnel of the spine in either the neck or back. This tunnel is very small in nature and gets smaller as we age and therefore much more common in ages 40+.

It’s very common for people to present to a physiotherapist with a self-diagnosed ‘pinched nerve’, but this is much less common than you think. In most cases, the pain is arising from the joints in the neck and there is an inflammatory response around the nerve, however, it is not being pushed on.

Signs & Symptoms (what you may experience)

  • Referred pain down either the arms or legs
  • Altered sensations down the arms or legs such as pins and needles or burning.
  • Muscle weakness
  • Diminished reflexes

What causes a trapped nerve?

A nerve can become ‘pinched’ by the surrounding tissue that irritates or compresses the nerve.

These tissues include:

  • Disc herniation or protrusion
  • Injury to ligaments
  • Injury to muscles
  • Arthritic spurs (bone spurs)
  • Inflammation from a different injury

How do we diagnose this?

The first step is a thorough neck and/or back assessment by your Doctor or Physiotherapist to assess whether further imaging is necessary. Once we have diagnosed your problem, we are able to decide whether an Orthopaedic review is required, or whether physiotherapy should be prescribed. 

How can physiotherapy help?

  • Soft tissue massage and dry needling to decrease muscle spasm around the compressed nerve.
  • Mobilisation of the spine to decrease joint stiffness and take pressure off the nerve by allowing more space for it to pass through.
  • Strengthening exercises for weak muscles to prevent the injury from returning.
  • Education & advice about which positions to avoid, and which positions will help.
  • Corticosteroid injections can be organised by referring to a Medical Specialist (if necessary).

How Long until I’m better?

The time to recovery varies between individuals. This ranges from several weeks to months.

What can I do at home?

The first thing to is follow-up with your general practitioner for advice on medication that can help both with the pain and any inflammation that may be occurring. The next thing to do is find comfortable positions that won’t irritate the nerve further. Your physiotherapist will show you these positions and some gentle exercises to get you going again.

Reece Jones

Principal Physiotherapist

Set in Motion Physiotherapy

Read More

ACL injuries and where we are going wrong
Blog, Press

ACL Injuries and Where We Are Going Wrong

From a patient who has suffered two ACL reconstruction’s consecutively over a 2-year period, I understand how traumatic they truly can be. In Sydney we have one of the highest re-injury rates of ACL reconstructions. Up to 40% of patients have been reported to...

Diagnosed with iron deficiency? What now?
Blog, Press

Diagnosed with iron deficiency? What now?

At the Walk-in Specialist Emergency Clinic, WiSE we offer iron infusions (Ferinject) to appropriate patients who have been identified as iron deficient and for whom oral iron replacement has not been sufficient or is not appropriate.  For further details see...

work injuries
Blog, Press, Uncategorized

Work Injuries

Injuries at work do occur. As an employee or employer, time off work can be really difficult. No one has time to wait hours in your local hospital emergency department or spend days accessing various services and waiting for results. The WiSE Specialist Emergency...

Recipe - Green Smoothie
Blog, Press

Recipe – Green Smoothie

Getting your five serves of fruit and vegetables a day just got a whole lot easier. Unlike a juice, this smoothie keeps all the fibre intact, and with less fruit than vegetables, it keeps sugar levels to a minimum. Smoothies also reduce food waste - blemish? Who...

Blog, Press

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a painful inflammatory condition that affects the joints of the body and structures such as bone, cartilage, ligaments and muscles. These result in pain and a loss in mobility and a reduction in quality of life. Swelling around the joint Painful...

Mastitis
Blog, Press

Mastitis

Mastitis is inflammation of the breast tissue that can be caused by an engorged breast or a blocked duct. A red, lumpy, painful area on the breast is an early sign and mastitis can develop quickly if the milk is not removed. Chills/fever Joint aches and pains ...

Avocado
Blog, Press

Holy Guacamole

Australians’ love of avocados grows steadily each year. Consumption in 2016/17 reached just over 3.5kg per person! This soaring popularity of Australia's beloved Avo has seen an increase in people accidentally cutting their hands when endeavoring to remove the...

Humans of WiSE - Winnie
Blog, Press

Humans of WiSE – Winnie

I’ve been a nurse for 11 years and spent 10 years in emergency nursing at RNSH. I started working in emergency nursing because I like the variety in caseload that you see. I am a jack of all trades. I love that I’m not specialised in one area and I see a lot of...

The ‘New’ Normal!

The ‘New’ Normal!

The first time your cat rested itself upon your keyboard was cute. The second..third - fourth time, a little less cute, a little more diabolical.  We are seeing laws relax and people and businesses itching to return to work. Businesses across every sector are...