Nerves play several roles in your body, such as processing sensations, controlling muscles, and keeping automatic systems like breathing and heartbeats online. Despite these heavy duties, nerves are delicate and vulnerable to pressure from inflammation or out-of-place tissue. When a nerve becomes inflamed or irritated by this contact, it’s often called a pinched nerve.
You might know pinched-nerve conditions by other names such as sciatica, herniated disc, or carpal tunnel syndrome since pinched nerves can happen virtually anywhere in your body. Our Atlas Neurosurgery and Spine Center team can tell you when nerve compression is to blame and chart a course for your recovery.
Recognizing a pinched nerve
Because nerves perform a variety of duties, pinched nerves produce differing symptoms. Typically, though, these symptoms are similar no matter where the nerve irritation occurs. You’ll have one or more of six common symptoms anytime a pinched nerve occurs, though the type of pain or sensation may vary depending on the part of the body affected.
6 symptoms of a pinched nerve
Sensory nerves create feelings when pinched, while motor nerves lose strength. Autonomic nerves rarely suffer compression, but it does happen. These are the 6 most common symptoms you’ll likely encounter when you have a pinched nerve.
Pinched nerves can cause sharp, stabbing pain or dull aches and variations at any point. The location of the pain can sometimes be deceptive, creating symptoms at the site of the pinched nerve or anywhere downstream from the point of compression or irritation.
Tingling or “pins and needles”
Sensory nerves sometimes create feelings other than pain. The most common non-pain feeling is tingling, or what many people describe as “pins and needles” or the “foot falling asleep” feeling. While not painful, these sensations may be distracting or annoying.
Numbness or lost sensation
Some pinched nerves stop sending sensory information to your brain. In this case, you feel numb spots where nerve stimulation isn’t processed. It’s also possible for a pinched nerve to cause all three symptoms — pain, tingling, and numbness — along a nerve’s path from a single injury.
When you have multiple symptoms along a nerve path, those located at a distance from the point of the pinched nerve are called referred symptoms. Sciatica, for example, can feature sharp pain in the middle of the lower back, aching pain through the buttocks, tingling along the outer thigh, and numbness at the side of the knee.
Motor nerves trigger muscle motion, so pinching can interrupt the normal behavior of such a nerve. People with carpal tunnel syndrome may notice that they can’t grip things tightly with their thumbs.
In rare cases, autonomic nerves can suffer from pinching. Perhaps the most common of these is the cauda equina nerve bundle. It can be pinched by herniated discs in the lower back, causing urinary or fecal incontinence, a serious condition that requires prompt treatment.
When you suspect a pinched nerve, contact Atlas Neurosurgery and Spine Center for an exam and diagnosis. You can reach our office by phone or online to book your appointment.