What is a “pinched nerve” anyway?

“Pinched nerve” is such a common term, but does anyone actually know what it means? Interestingly enough, it’s not even an accurate term.

In reality nerves aren’t ever actually pinched. There aren’t any weird pincer bugs or fingers inside the body that grab nerves and pinch them. So what is really happening?

Since the term isn’t actually real then that means a diagnosis of a pinched nerve isn’t accurate either and is more of an umbrella term for many different things. There could be a disc herniation or disc bulge, nerve entrapment/compression, or it could be something entirely different like a joint capsule restriction.

Don’t get me wrong- all of these things are painful and can certainly feel like a pinching sensation. When there is disc involvement there is usually a mixture of compression around the nerve from the disc itself, but even more so a lot of inflammation that puts significant pressure on the nerve.

Even something as well-known as sciatica can be either from a disc injury compressing a spinal nerve or it can be from a buttock muscle, the piriformis, that is compressing the nerve.



Spinal Disc Herniation



Pinched nerve (spinal disc herniation) diagram.

No one thinks of carpal tunnel syndrome as a pinched nerve, but if a pinched nerve is technically compression around a nerve or inflammation causing pressure then that could also be a pinched nerve… but it isn’t because it’s not pinched just as the other scenarios are not pinched either. [As a side note: carpal tunnel syndrome is often a misdiagnosis! Before you get surgery please get a second opinion with a conservative provider like a Chiropractor]

One more example is a joint capsule restriction. Joint capsules help to stabilize and distribute load across the joint and are comprised of nerve endings. When a joint is “stuck” and isn’t moving properly it can’t distribute load appropriately and will also feel pinched due to inflammation and uneven pressure on the joint.

It’s important to understand that “pinched nerve” can be many different things diagnosed as a general symptom. The most helpful thing you can do for a pinched nerve is to go to a professional who can properly diagnose it and treat it or refer you to a specialist. Luckily, a Chiropractor is a specialist that can diagnose and treat the appropriate and affected areas.

The process of treating starts with a proper evaluation to determine what is happening. Keep in mind that you are allowed to have more than one problem and it may be a mix of issues causing a pinched nerve sensation. Once a proper diagnosis is formed then the course of treatment is determined, which will involve soft tissue techniques, joint mobilization of appropriate regions, and active rehab exercises. All of these are essential to address the root cause and create a more functional environment that decreases pain and creates injury mitigation for the future.

Suffering from a “pinched nerve” in your neck, back, or shoulder? Schedule an appointment at Adjust Your Performance today!

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