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Pinched (Compressed) Nerve

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Nerves extend from your brain and spinal cord, sending important messages throughout your body. If you have a pinched nerve (nerve compression) your body may send you warning signals such as pain. Don't ignore these warning signals.

Damage from a pinched nerve may be minor or severe. It may cause temporary or long-lasting problems. The earlier you get a diagnosis and treatment for nerve compression, the more quickly you'll find relief.

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In some cases, you can't reverse the damage from a pinched nerve. But treatment usually relieves pain and other symptoms.

Causes of Pinched Nerves

A pinched nerve occurs when there is "compression" (pressure) on a nerve.

The pressure may be the result of repetitive motions. Or it may happen from holding your body in one position for long periods, such as keeping elbows bent while sleeping.

Nerves are most vulnerable at places in your body where they travel through narrow spaces but have little soft tissue to protect them. Nerve compression often occurs when the nerve is pressed between tissues such as:

  • Ligament
  • Tendon
  • Bone

For example, inflammation or pressure on a nerve root exiting the spine may cause neck or low back pain. It may also cause pain to radiate from the neck into the shoulder and arm (cervical radiculopathy). Or pain may radiate into the leg and foot (lumbar radiculopathy or sciatic nerve pain).

These symptoms may result from changes that develop in the spine's discs and bones. For example, if a disc weakens or tears -- known as a herniated disc -- pressure can get put on a spinal nerve.

Nerve compression in your neck or arm may also cause symptoms in areas such as your:

  • Elbow
  • Hand
  • Wrist
  • Fingers

This can lead to conditions such as:

  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Tennis elbow

If nerve compression lasts a long time, a protective barrier around the nerve may break down. Fluid may build up, which may cause:

  • Swelling
  • Extra pressure
  • Scarring

The scarring may interfere with the nerve's function.

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