What Are Pinched Nerves?


Human sciatic nerve, artwork
SEBASTIAN KAULITZKI/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Definition: The term pinched nerve describes one type of damage or injury to a nerve or set of nerves. "Pinched nerve" is often used as a catch-all phrase for injuries resulting from compression, constriction, or stretching.

Symptoms include numbness, "pins and needles" or burning sensations, and pain radiating outward from the injured area. One of the most common examples of a single compressed nerve is the feeling of having a foot or hand "fall asleep."

According to A.D.A.M., at some time, up to 40% of people experience pain, known as sciatica, which occurs when the sciatic nerve is trapped or inflamed. The sciatic nerve is the one most likely to be affected in low back pain.

Aside from sciatica, pinched nerves can sometimes lead to other conditions such as

The extent of pinched nerve injuries may vary from minor, temporary damage to a more permanent condition. Early diagnosis is important to prevent further damage or complications. Pinched nerve is a common cause of on-the-job injury.

The most frequently recommended treatment for pinched nerve is rest for the affected area. Corticosteroids help alleviate pain. In some cases, surgery is recommended. Physical therapy may also be recommended, and splints or collars may be used. With treatment, most people recover from pinched nerve.

However, in some cases, the damage is irreversible.

Sources: A.D.A.M, NINDS Pinched Nerve Information Page

Also Known As: trapped nerve, nerve entrapment, nerve compression, compressed nerve, twisted nerve, pressure neuropathy

Examples: Some commonly compressed or "pinched" nerves include the:

  • median nerve (affects sensations in the hand)
  • ulnar nerve (extends down the arm past the elbow)
  • radial nerve (also extends down the arm)
  • femoral nerve (extends from the hip to the knee)
  • plantar nerves (located in your feet)
  • tibial nerve (past the knee and lower leg)
  • nerves between the discs in your spinal column
  • peroneal nerve (runs along the side of your leg)
  • sciatic nerve (located in the back of the leg)

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