As a Greenwood Village chiropractor, I see my fair share of neck related issues.
From stiff necks, to neck pain and neck aches, I’ve seen it all.
But the question that I tend to get the most is:
How do I fix a pinched nerve in the neck?
If you’ve ever suffered from this, you will understand the limitations it may cause. Around 85 out of every 100,000 people experience this sensation.
Some of the symptoms that may accompany a pinched nerve are:
-Numbness, tingling, or decreased sensation in the area supplied by the nerve
-Sharp, burning, or aching pain which could travel elsewhere
-Sensation that the limb is falling asleep
What causes it?
A pinched nerve in the neck can be caused by a variety of different mechanisms.
For example, according to the Mayo Clinic, a nerve can be pinched due to:
-Bulging disc or cartilage
-Certain types of arthritis
-Muscle, Tendon, or Ligaments
It’s obvious a pinched nerve in the neck could be due to one of many different causes. And it may be due to a combination of these factors.
And because of the multiple factors that may be involved, no case is exactly the same.
It may be an incident as obvious as a car accident that leads to pressure being applied to the nerve.
However, it may be very complicated. For example, irritation to a nerve may be caused by inflamed muscles that are swollen due to improper or repetitious movement. This is the case in issues like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
A pinched nerve can also affect other areas of the body.
In many cases, if the nerve is compressed, the body may experience symptoms further down the chain.
For example, if there’s a pinched nerve in the neck, a person may experience numbness through the arm and down into the hand.
Likewise, if there’s nerve pressure in the lower back, there may be tingling or weakness down the leg and into the feet.
Understanding that pinched nerves often lead to referred symptoms, helps with diagnosing the core problem.
Each case is different.
Because of that, there is no ‘one treatment fixes all’ approach. Instead, there are various options for people suffering from pain, numbness and tingling, or weakness that originates in the neck.
Some of the more invasive options are things like diskectomy and fusion, or disc replacement which both require surgical intervention.
In our opinion, this should always be the last option explored due to the permanency of the procedure, and the length of recovery associated with it.
Once you have a surgery the body is never the same, for better or worse. And the healing time can be anywhere from 6-12 months.
The good news is this is not the only option for a pinched nerve in the neck.
Some elect for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Advil, Aspirin, Tylenol, etc. Others receive steroid injections, or Narcotics for their discomfort.
Each of these non-surgical treatments have their place. However, none of them fix the underlying problem. Whether it’s a disc bulge, a bone out of place, or muscle that is continuously worked too hard, a drug or substance will not correct the problem.
It may temporarily bring relief by reducing inflammation, or stopping pain signals. However, this will surely wear off.
A cervical collar affects the body similarly to how drugs do in this situation. The collar keeps the neck in an upright position and keeps the muscles from working too hard. Hopefully, this leads to a decrease in symptoms.
But, the problem is still there, and once the neck brace is removed, it’s a matter of time before the original issue shows its nasty little head again.
What would we recommend to get rid of the problem?
Physical Therapy or strengthening exercises are great options to explore when someone is experiencing issues originating in the neck.
The stronger muscle is, the better it can adapt to a force being applied to it. In other words, if stress is put on muscle tissue that is weak, the likelihood of the stress creating problems in the body is much greater.
On the flip side, the stronger the muscle is around the neck or any part of the body, the less likely it is for the stress to negatively affect the body.
The following 4 exercises are powerful tools to reduce the symptoms caused by a pinched nerve and restore normal function.
- Neck extension – Grab a firm towel roll, or pool noodle and lay on your back. You should be on a harder surface (floor, carpet, yoga mat). Allow your neck to sink into the roll for 10-12 minutes.
- Neck retraction – Imagine someone is coming at you with a pie and is going to shove it in your face. Good! That reaction you have of pulling your head straight back is what this exercise is all about. Keep your chin level and pull your head back over your shoulders as far as possible. Hold for 5-10 seconds, and repeat 20 times per day.
- Neck Lateral Flexion – Take your right ear and bend it towards your right shoulder. Be careful not to raise your right shoulder. Keep your shoulders level. Then repeat on the left side. Continue doing this 20 times on each side 2 times per day.
- Neck Rotation – Turn your head to the right as far as you can without reproducing symptoms. Then rotate it to the other side. Repeat this 20 times in both directions. Do this 2 times per day.
Along with the strengthening exercises mentioned above, it may also be important to inspect the structural integrity of the spine.
When a segment of the spine shifts out of position or becomes stuck in place, it leads to a chain reaction in the body.
This often triggers abnormal muscle firing, improper stress loads on the vertebrae and discs, distorted nerve firing, etc.
So, how do you know if your spine is healthy, or unhealthy?
Sometimes, this can be as easily visualized by observing someone’s posture. Abnormal posture typically hints at shifting of the spine beneath the surface.
If you’d like to analyze your own posture, scroll to the bottom of this post and enter your info. We will send you a free copy of our At-Home Postural Assessment Tool!
Each of these reactions in the body may play a role in a pinched nerve. Furthermore, they all have the potential to contribute to other health issues that may seem unrelated.
If the pinched nerve is still present after following the steps above…
Make sure to seek attention from a healthcare provider.
As I discussed in the beginning of this post, there are many reasons for a pinched nerve. There are also various symptoms that can result.
And it’s always better to be safe than sorry.