Learn more about Nerve Compression Syndrome and how LA Orthopedic Group can manage your symptoms.
Nerve compression syndrome is a condition that may affect any of the nerves in the body. Also referred to as entrapment or compression neuropathy, nerve compression syndrome occurs when a nerve is “pinched” or compressed. A common example is a herniated disc that’s placing pressure on the sciatic nerve that extends from the lower back to the legs.
- Nerve compression is often relegated to a single area of the body
- The pain experienced will depend on where the nerve is compressed and what’s causing the pressure
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What Causes Nerve Compression Syndrome
While nerve compression may result from sudden trauma, such as what sometimes happens with a car accident or sports-related injury, it’s often a progressive injury. With carpal tunnel syndrome, for instance, the median nerve in the hand is compressed and symptoms often develop gradually. A nerve may be compressed from prolonged pressure placed on a certain part of body, which may occur due to poor posture, sleeping in awkward positions, or from sitting or standing in the same position for long periods of time.
Repetitious motions can also cause nerve irritation, with tennis elbow, which affects the radial nerve, being an example of this type of nerve compression. Occupations that involve stress on the same set of nerves from repetitious tasks can produce similar results. Habits like frequently resting on elbows, which affects the ulnar nerve, may also cause entrapment. Symptoms experienced, often somewhere along the pathway of the nerve rather than at the place where the nerve is compressed, with any type of nerve entrapment may include:
- Numbness and tingling
- Burning sensations
- General weakness
- Pain triggered by certain movements
A patient’s reported symptoms are often used to determine which nerve is likely affected or compressed. Confirmation may be achieved with nerve conduction studies (electromyography) and image tests. Electrical impulses of muscles may also be evaluated. Such tests can also identify tumors or additional tissue or nerve damage and rule other conditions that sometimes produce similar symptoms.
Nerve compression syndrome may be a temporary issue, as sometimes occurs during pregnancy. If this is the case, delivery should relieve the discomfort. Any underlying issues, such as excess weight or joint problems, contributing to nerve compression will also need to be addressed. Non-surgical treatment options are usually attempted first, with recommendations usually including:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Activity modification
- Bracing or splinting (depends on location affected)
- Steroid injections
- Hot and cold applications
- Physical therapy exercises to strengthen nearby muscles
Surgery is only an option if symptoms are severe or potentially life-threatening, or if attempts at non-surgical remedies have failed. Surgery often involves making more room for the compressed nerve or relieving nerve pressure, as is sometimes done with a herniated disc. Symptoms may disappear completely after surgery or linger in a milder form for several weeks or months post-surgery as the nerve heals.
In some cases, damage from a pinched nerve cannot be reversed. However, if the source of the compression is identified early, symptoms may be successfully treated or managed. There are no standard preventative measures, although maintaining a diet rich in nutritious foods and getting regular exercise can improve circulation and keep soft tissues, joints, bones, and discs around nerves healthy and minimize the risk of nerve entrapment or irritation.