Pinched Nerve In The Neck: Overview
A pinched nerve in the neck happens when a vertebra or disc in the upper part of your spine is damaged. This damage can happen because of an injury. Or it can just happen with age.
The changes caused by the damage may put pressure on a nearby nerve root, pinching it. This causes symptoms such as sharp pain in your neck, shoulder, arm, hand, or back. You may also have tingling or numbness. Sometimes it makes your arm weaker. The symptoms are usually worse when you turn your head or strain your neck.
For many people, the symptoms get better over time and finally go away.
Early treatment usually includes medicines for pain and swelling. Sometimes physical therapy and special exercises may help.
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What Are The Symptoms Of A Trapped Nerve
Sometimes, pain might be your only symptom, although you could experience other warning signs too.
“The nerve pain itself can feel like a sensation of intense pressure or burning, and it may feel like tiny electric shocks or tingling,” says Ordman.
“At the same time, you can also experience numbness in the region of the nerve, which is a strange and contradictory sensation all at once.”
The discomfort happens, Ordman says, because the nerve is being squashed, so it sends the brain a message, which it interprets as pain. There may also be a feeling of muscle weakness in the affected area.
Essential Oils To Relieve Shoulder Pain
Another way to help reduce the irritating persistent pain that entrapped nerves cause is to massage the area with a pain-relieving essential oil blend. Many essential oils have analgesic activity and can help to treat any kind of mild to severe nerve pain.
According to a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, essential oils are a natural remedy for shoulder pain. The study showed that people who suffered from shoulder pain due to nerve and muscle damage reported a 30% reduction in pain when essential oils were used in aromatherapy acupressure.14
To treat shoulder nerve pain with essential oils, this is what you should do:
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Neck Pain Referred To The Shoulder
Lennard Funk, 2012
Pain felt in the shoulder area can sometimes be coming from your neck. This is because the nerves and muscles that arise from your neck pass through your shoulder on their way down the arm. The nerves from your neck also travel down your arm . Thus neck pain may extend down your arm.
Pain from your neck is usually felt mainly at the top of your shoulder over your trapezius muscle, whilst pain from your shoulder is normally felt over your upper arm.
The pain is NOT made worse with movement of your shoulder, so your shoulder moves freely without aggravating the pain. This is the simplest way to know that the pain is not from your shoulder, but from your neck!However, it can become confusing because many people with neck-related shoulder pain also develope weakness of their shoulder rotator cuff muscles and get subacromial impingement of the shoulder. It takes an experienced clinician to help you to differentiate the two sources of pain.
If the pain is from your neck joints and ligaments the pain is often a dull ache. If the pain is from a trapped nerve then the pain can be very, very severe. You may also get pins and needles or numbness in your hand. This is typically in the distribution of the affected nerve .
An MRI scan of your neck is the most useful investigation to see the inner anatomy of your neck and any problems therein.
The common causes of shoulder pain from the neck are:
Common Causes Of Radicular Pain In The Shoulder
Several common neck problems can cause symptoms of cervical radiculopathy, including:
- Cervical degenerative disc disease. The intervertebral discs between the vertebrae lose hydration over time. When a disc loses enough hydration it becomes thinner and less able to do its job, potentially producing pain and possibly irritating or pressuring on the nearby nerve root.
- Cervical foraminal stenosis. This condition occurs when the nerve root becomes compressed while going through the foramena small hole in the bony vertebral construct. The narrowing of the foramen can happen in various ways, such by the overgrowth of bone spurs or by a herniated disc.
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Treating Arm Nerve Pain
If you are suffering from a pinched nerve in your shoulder, arm or neck, there are various things you can do to help:
If You Have Any Of The Following Symptoms You May Be Suffering From A Pinched Nerve:
- Pain in the neck that radiates beyond your elbow or to your fingertips
- Shoulder blade pain
- Hand, arm, or shoulder weakness
- Dull aches, numbness, or tingling
- Pain aggravated by neck movements
If you have any of the aforementioned symptoms, administer this self-movement test to help you determine if a pinched nerve is the cause of your pain:
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Symptoms And Signs Of Sciatica And Degenerative Disc Disease
The discs of the spine serve as “cushions” between each vertebral segment. Degeneration of the disc makes the disc more susceptible to herniation , which can lead to localized or radiating pain. This typically occurs in the cervical spine of the neck and/or lumbar spine of the low back. Sciatica pain or pain shooting down the leg, can result from lumbar disc herniation or spinal osteoarthritis when nerves in the low back are irritated by the abnormal anatomy in the low back.
Symptoms and signs of a herniated disc and sciatica include:
- Nerve irritation caused by damage to the disc between the vertebrae.
- Low back pain caused by disc degeneration or spinal root nerve irritation.
- Degenerative arthritis or osteoarthritis
How To Treat Symptoms Of A Pinched Nerve In The Shoulder Blade
Once you have gotten confirmation from a medical professional that you have a pinched nerve in the shoulder blade, the next step is finding a way to treat it. This usually calls for treating the underlying cause, if any, but there are also steps that can be taken to mitigate the symptoms:
1. Get enough rest: At the most basic level, resting is a direct means of easing the pain caused by a pinched shoulder nerve. Generally speaking, you will want to avoid moving the affected arm or your neck when possible. Modifying your sleeping posture may also be advised, but it will depend on the exact nerve in question.
2. Use a traction collar: Depending on the nerve, you may end up wearing a traction collar to help keep your neck immobile. The physician who makes the diagnoses will be able to provide more tailored advice.
3. Hot and cold therapy: Compresses can also be used to soothe swelling and inflammation. Apply a hot compress on the site for around fifteen minutes and then swap to a cold compress for another fifteen minutes. Repeat as needed until the area feels better.
4. Over-the-counter painkillers: As with many medical problems, drugs can help as well. Specifically non-steroidal anti-inflammatories or painkillers in either over-the-counter or prescription form.
5. Honey and cinnamon paste: If you want to try a natural remedy, you can also make a paste of honey and cinnamon to apply to the shoulder area. Let it sit for around ten minutes before washing it off.
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What Is A Pinched Nerve
A pinched nerve is a compressed nerve. Surrounding tissues that press on nerve roots can cause pain, numbness and tingling in different areas of your body. In many cases, the cause is a herniated disk slipping out between vertebrae in the spinal cord and pressing on the spinal nerve that goes down the leg.
Most pinched nerves originate in the neck , upper middle back or lower back . You can also experience pinched nerves in your hand, elbow and wrist .
Pinched nerves can affect several areas of your body:
- A pinched nerve in the cervical spine can give you a stiff neck, and the pain and numbness can affect the shoulder and arm.
- A pinched lumbar nerve in the lower back can cause pain in your back, hips, buttocks and legs.
- Thoracic radiculopathy causes pain in your chest area. If you have severe chest pain, play it safe and call your healthcare provider.
A pinched nerve can be painful, but its usually treatable with rest, over-the-counter medication and physical therapy. Most people recover fully from a pinched nerve.
How Is A Pinched Nerve Diagnosed
Youll want to visit a healthcare provider about your pinched nerve if its not responding to conservative treatment at home. To find the source of the pinched nerve, providers physically examine your neck, arms, shoulders, and wrist and hands. Theyll look for muscle weakness, test change in reflexes and ask about the different sensations youre feeling.
If necessary, you may be asked to undergo one or more of these procedures to track the source of the problem:
- X-ray: An X-ray can show narrowing and changing alignment of the spinal cord, and fractures.
- Computed tomography scan: A CT shows 3D images and more detail of the spine than an X-ray.
- Magnetic resonance imaging : An MRI can show if damage to soft tissues are causing the nerve compression, or if there is damage to the spinal cord.
- Electromyography : Electrical impulses of muscles measured by an EMG, along with nerve conduction studies, can help determine if a nerve is working normally. This helps your provider see if symptoms are caused by pressure on spinal nerve roots, or if nerve damage is caused by another condition like diabetes.
Symptoms Of A Pinched Nerve In The Shoulder Blade
Due to how signals are transmitted through the body, a pinched nerve in the shoulder can cause symptoms elsewhere in the body. If you are worried that you have a pinched nerve, keep an eye out for the following:
- Pain: Whether it is a burning, throbbing, or shooting pain, a pinched nerve is likely going to cause some form of hurt. This can come from the compressed nerve itself or the muscle spasms that in the shoulder blade sometimes accompany them. The pain from a pinched nerve sometimes seems to be radiating or traveling along one part of the body as well.
- Weakness: Nerves affect how your muscles operate and a pinched nerve will affect your shoulder blades and shoulders in general. You will likely find it difficult to lift objects or even raise your arms over your head. Weaknesses in grip or mobility can affect a single hand or the entire arm, depending on which nerve is affected.
- Tingling: As mentioned above, the pins and needles sensation of a limb having fallen asleep happens when a nerve is compressed. This is called paresthesia and can also be accompanied by numbness along the affected area.
The specific location and frequency of the symptoms will depend on a combination of what is causing the pinching, which nerve is being affected, and how severe the problem is. Symptoms of a pinched nerve in shoulder blade can come in waves, have a more ongoing presence, or simply appear and vanish quickly.
Try Oral Or Injectable Corticosteroids For Pain
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Symptoms Of Pinched Nerves
With nerve compression, sometimes pain may be your only symptom. Or you may have other symptoms without pain.
These are some of the more common symptoms of compressed nerves:
- Pain in the area of compression, such as the neck or low back
- Radiating pain, such as sciatica or radicular pain
- Numbness or tingling
- “Pins and needles” or a burning sensation
- Weakness, especially with certain activities
Sometimes symptoms worsen when you try certain movements, such as turning your head or straining your neck.
How Is Nerve Pain Treated
If you’re suffering with a trapped nerve, rest assured that most cases go away on their own, and often quite quickly in a couple of days.
“In the case of neck and lumbar spine pain, changing your posture and visiting a good physiotherapist may be enough,” says Ordman.
Alternating between applying a heat and ice pack can help you to find relief – but make sure to wrap them in a towel before applying directly to your skin. Massage therapy, through the use of a handheld massage tool, can help to stimulate circulation in the affected area and bring soothing benefits.
“Sometimes anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen can help, but they shouldn’t be taken long term. Painkillers such as paracetamol are not particularly helpful with nerve pain,” Ordman adds.
“There are specific medicines to treat nerve pain, including gabapentin, amitriptyline and pregabalin, but these drugs will only help one person in around four, and they usually have side-effects, such as sedation and memory issues or brain fog.”
You will need to speak to your doctor about these types of medicines, to ensure they are suitable and side-effects are monitored. Ordman adds that pregabalin can be very addictive too, so should be prescribed in a controlled way.
“Newly available medicines, such as medical cannabis, are being increasingly turned to, and they can be very useful in treating the symptoms of nerve pain,” says Ordman.
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What Should You Do
If you are experiencing a heart attack, time is heart muscle, says Dr. Mills.
Most medical centers in the U.S. now have programs that can significantly reduce the damage to your heart. Dont sit at home and wait to see if it goes away.
Though you may believe that the shoulder pain is from a recent incident in the gym, Dr. Charles advises,When this occurs on your left side it can often mimic a heart attack. As a precautionary measure, you should immediately go to the ER and make sure it is not.
Once cleared, you can go to your physical medicine specialist, such as a doctor of chiropractic or osteopathy, and be examined to see if your symptoms are from TOC.
A trip to the ER will get you a blood test that can show if you had a heart attack.
A heart attack damages cardiac muscle, releasing a protein into the bloodstream which will be detected by the blood test.
If youre cleared from having had a heart attack, you may be also be advised to see a neurosurgeon who specializes in the treatment of pinched nerves.
An MRI will show nerve compression in the neck.
Dr. Charles has helped thousands of patients and taught over 1,200 doctors during his 30+ years of practice. He has also created the Power Kinetics® Exercise Program and line of nutritional vitamins and performance supplements.
Can You Prevent A Pinched Nerve
Paying attention to body positions and decreasing repetitive activities can help prevent a pinched nerve. Using ergonomic principles at work and at home can decrease the risk of nerve injuries. If repetitive activities are necessary to perform a task, incorporating frequent breaks or rest periods can reduce or eliminate the risk of nerve injury.
Overview Of Pinched Nerve
A pinched nerve in the neck is called cervical radiculopathy. Cervical radiculopathy occurs when a nerve root becomes compressed or irritated, even for a very brief moment. A nerve root is an area where a nerve branches off of the spinal cord and exits between two vertebrae . There are eight nerve roots in your neck. They control muscles and therefore affect feeling in different areas of your upper body and arms.
While a pinched nerve isn’t life-threatening, it can cause problems with daily living and potentially permanent nerve damage. It’s essential to see a doctor for proper diagnosis.
At Dignity Health, we understand how the pain from a pinched nerve can affect your day-to-day life. Find an orthopedist near you to receive high-quality, personalized care for your pinched nerve and any other neck conditions and injuries.
How Do Nerves Get Damaged
Neural damage that results in arm nerve pain can be caused by:
- Mechanical Compression: where there is impingement or compression of the spinal cord or nerve
- Chemical Irritation: Inflammatory chemicals such as pro-inflammatory cytokines irritate the nerve making it more sensitive to stimuli.
Nerve damage may occur right at the origin of the nerve in the neck, or anywhere down in path to the hand.
Lets look at the most common causes of nerve damage that cause shoulder and arm pain.
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Treatment Measures For Trapped Nerve In Shoulder
1. Ice and Rest
Ice therapy is often offered to treat acute aches and pains, those that are often associated with a trapped nerve in shoulder. This type of therapy helps to reduce swelling and inflammation in the affected area. It also helps to anesthetize and numb the affected area, lowering the pain and tingling sensations that you may experience. Rest will ensure you do not over exert the injured shoulder.
2. Range of Motion Exercise
Simply stand with your affected arm pointing in front of your body, and ensure that your elbow is not bending. Next, extend your affected arm slowly away from your body, outwards, either left or right. Then place your affected arm at your side and slowly raise it behind your back. Finally, perform a full rotation of the affected arm from a relaxed position at your side, raising it in front of your body, round over your head, and back to resting at the side. This motion is best performed at a slow pace to not risk intensifying the injury. Relax, and repeat as necessary.
3. Stretching Exercise
4. Strengthening with Shoulder Shrugs
A shoulder blade squeeze can be performed either sitting or standing. First, check your posture and ensure that your back is straight, then simply squeeze your shoulders together, hold , relax, and repeat 5 times.
5. Other Exercises
6. Medical Treatment
How Do Nerves Work
The neck is made up of seven bones, known as vertebra, that sit on top of each other – imagine a stack of cotton reels.
In between the bones are squashy oblong structures known as intervertebral discs – imagine jam donuts. Running down through the middle of the spine, from the bottom of the brain, is a long cable known as the spinal cord imagine a tree trunk.
At each spinal level , a pair of nerves divides off the spinal cord. They branch out through gaps at the side of the vertebrae known as the intervertebral foramen and, in the case of the neck, the nerves extend down various parts of the arm to the hand imagine branches coming off the tree trunk.
These nerves have receptor cells which are looking for information to send to the brain. They also link with muscles telling them when and how to move. Signals travel up and down the nerves , to and from the brain and spinal cord . Let me give you an example: when you place your hand on a table, signals travel from the peripheral to the central nervous system to tell you that you are touching something. The peripheral and central nervous system work together to decipher what the surface feels like e.g. hot, cold, rough, smooth as well as information such as how much pressure you are putting through your hand.
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Exercises To Relieve A Pinched Nerve
One of the best ways to get rid of the pain that a pinched nerve causes is to perform regular back exercises.
According to the journal Clinical Medicine: Case Reports, home exercise programs are effective in relieving the symptoms of cervical disc herniation. Doctors found that gentle stretching of the neck helps to give pain relief by widening the spaces between the vertebrae. This also helps to prevent further disc and vertebrae injuries in the future.12