What is a Trapped Nerve

So you are in pain and you want a solution. If it is any consolation it is not just you there are tons of other people from around the world who are sitting reading this article who need answers. Well you have found the right page and I want to help you solve that painful nerve somewhere in your body.

Man holding no pain posterThe pain of a nerve being pinched can be terrible both in how bad the pain levels are and the feeling of frustration because you just don’t know how to stop it. I hope to help guide you through this event in your life.

I’m going to start by helping you get to get a clearer picture of this common condition. Well actually that’s going to be the first part I’ll clear up for you. It’s not an actual condition, but a colloquial (informal) term for possibly a variety of problems.

Why It’s Not a Condition

It may or may not come as a surprise, but it’s not an actual condition (medical diagnosis). There is no official ICD10 medical code a doctor can use for insurance companies. It is more something people just say when they are feeling sore and they just assume something has gotten stuck.

I’ve been around the world and have listened to the words that patients say and how they describe things. In the UK we like to use the term trapped whereas in other parts of the world like the USA, Canada, Australia and South Africa they tend to use the term pinched. You can see the Google trend graph below how people search online and the difference in countries from the picture.

UK vs USA patient language difference for nerve pain

Now saying that it is not an officially recognised condition, does not mean your pain is not real. In fact the opposite there are many things it could be. I’ll help you figure it out.

The Nervous System

First of all I must warn you this may be quite a long article, and seem technical at times, but I have tried to write it in easy to digest information with patient friendly language and youtube videos. Are you ready? Here goes.

Nerves are all over our bodies. They start from our brain, travel to all our internal organs, out to the fingers and toes and finally the skin all over our body. So basically nerves are everywhere! It is important you know which types of nerves we could be dealing with when we have a problem with them.

The Two Main Types Of Nerves

To start with we have two main nervous systems:

  1. Central Nervous System (CNS)
  2. Peripheral Nervous System (PNS)

The central nervous system is our brain and spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system is all the other nerves.

Why is it important to know we have two main nervous systems? Nerve pain (a.k.a neuropathic pain) is firstly diagnosed by a doctor according to which of the two above nervous system is being effected.

A neurologist in a hospital may say you are either suffering an upper motor neuron lesion or a lower motor neuron lesion. This is the language that helps define where the source of he problem is.

Probably most people reading this article will fall into the peripheral nervous system and specifically the lower motor neuron lesion category. I say this because it is likely right now you are experiencing a pinched nerve pain coming from your spine. I did a couple of videos showing you an example of this happening in your back.

Technically speaking, the peripheral nervous system is anywhere along the nerves path from the nerve root (which exits the spine at the intervertabral foramen) going outwards into our limbs and trunk.

I have spent a lot of time talking of a spinal origin, however, you can also easily have a the problem not coming from the spine. What I mean is the problem could be more to local to a nerve just in the finger, toe, tooth, ear etc… These nerves are also apart of the peripheral nervous system, but the problem is definitely not a spinal issue. This is more for conditions like a carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrist or tarsal tunnel syndrome in the ankle.

The Symptoms

Now you want to know “what are some of the symptoms?” that you might experience. There are loads of ways people describe their feelings. Some of the regular ones I might hear are:

  • Electric, shooting pain,
  • Deep throbbing pain,
  • Sore feeling in the bone,
  • Loss of feeling to touch,
  • Pins and needles in the skin,
  • Loss of temperature sensation,
  • Muscle twitches,
  • Sore to move,
  • Back pain,
  • Neck pain,
  • Changes in the texture of your skin,
  • Sciatica pain,
  • And many more symptoms…

The above descriptions can overlap with other various health conditions. To be able to properly diagnose a nerve compression injury a healthcare professional, like a chiropractor, would need both a good history and a physical examination. Even then further investigation tests might be needed to isolate where the source of the problem actually is. Speaking of which, below I have added a list of the best investigation test to help diagnose neuropathic pain.

Specialised Tests

physical examination would help the diagnosis. The first part is always by observing say how your walking, moving or holding your posture. Are you in an antalgic neck posture, Minor’s sign when standing from a chair or have a painful gait with walking. Look for muscle wasting, muscle fasciculations or skin changes.

Orthopaedic tests are done to stress different tissues in your body. These orthoapedic tests can include Spurling’s Test, Straight Leg Raise, Slump Test, neck traction/compression etc…

Neurological examination as a basic would be sensory, motor and reflex checking. This is when your chiropractor would be getting you to walk on your heels and toes, using a reflex hammer to tap your bicep, tricep, patella and achilles reflexes. Looking for more sinister signs like a Babinski reflex, Hoffman’s reflex etc…

If they need more information advanced testing could be ordered to rule in or out a nerve source of pain. This could include x-rays, MRI scan or CAT scan, blood tests for inflammatory markers or infection, nerve conduction studies etc… To be honest what I call a true trapped nerve pain is one coming from a herniated disc or bulging disc in the spine compressing the spinal nerve root. An MRI scan is the best for seeing which nerve root is being compressed at the spine. Common ones are C4-5, C5-6, C6-7 and L4-5, L5-S1 nerve roots on the left or right side.

Funny enough I think I have seen more left leg sciatica pain and 50/50 left or right arm cervical radiculopathy pain. Which side do you have pain, left or right?

Nerve Compression Treatment Options

Again this all depends are we dealing with a problem in the brain/spinal cord or anywhere from the nerve root leaving the spine all the way to a finger or toe.

I have added some self-treatment tips for all the different areas of the body that might be affected. Below is a list of the more common areas in our bodies for people to be feeling the sore and painful. Click on each to get more specific info for that area involved:

Some other tips for getting rid of the problem I would add are:

Once you have a diagnosis you can have a treatment plan which can range from quick relief like this guy or a longer rehabilitation process.

So Where is My Pain Coming From!

You probably have read this far just gone wow, that’s so much stuff, “how do I know if I have a pinched nerve?” Sorry, but that is why questions need to be asked first then some physical tests and maybe some advanced tests need to be done to rule in or out the question of a nerve source of pain.

I do have a great video simplifying the mystery of pain for you.

Sometimes you can a more sinister cause of pain like a slow progressive degenerative neurological condition.This is the case with say cervical spondylotic myelopathy. Then there are the more sudden shock trauma cases like what can happen in a car accident causing neck whiplash pain or a rugby tackle leaving you with a stinger injury or spinal shock.

The Bottom Line

Pain travels along a nerve pathway. If we had no nerves we would feel no pain. However, it is not always a problem with the nerve causing our aches and pains. This point is important is so that you can get an accurate diagnosis and the correct treatment to get better as soon as possible.

Pain is just a warning to the brain something is wrong. Health can be complicated, but I am trying to simplify what you might be feeling so that you get pain relief ASAP. Hope this helps and there is much more on the site to help you. If not I’m adding more content all the time.

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