Pinched Nerves: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Nerve compression is a very common experience. Most people recognize the tingling sensation of a leg or foot “falling asleep.” Most of the time, this feeling goes away within a few minutes.

But what about when that sensation happens too often, doesn’t go away within minutes, or is accompanied by sharp pain?

Sometimes, pain, numbness, and tingling may be the result of a pinched nerve.

What Is a Pinched Nerve?

A pinched nerve is another term for a compressed nerve. A pinched nerve occurs when surrounding tissues place too much pressure on the nerve.

Nerves are tiny fibers that carry messages from our brains throughout our bodies, and back to our brains.

A compressed or pinched nerve can occur between tissues such as:

  • Ligaments.
  • Tendons.
  • Bones.
  • Fluid in our joints.

Common places to have compressed nerves are in your:

  • Neck.
  • Upper/middle/lower back.
  • Elbow, wrist, and hands.
  • Shoulders.
  • Legs.
  • Knees, feet, and toes.

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Symptoms of Pinched Nerves

Pinched nerve symptoms can vary depending on severity or parts of the body. Many pinched nerves occur in the neck , back, or along the spine. They also can occur in the elbow, hand, or wrist.

One of the most common conditions of pinched nerves in the hand or wrist is carpal tunnel syndrome. A pinched nerve in the neck is called cervical radiculopathy. Upper/middle back pinched nerves are called thoracic radiculopathy, and in the lower back it is called lumbar radiculopathy.

In general, common symptoms include:

  • Pain where the nerve is compressed.
  • Pain that begins at the compressed nerve, but travels along the affected limb.
  • Tingling, numbness, or burning.
  • Weakness in the affected body part.

Hand and Wrist

In the wrist, as with carpal tunnel syndrome, numbness and tingling is felt in the hand. An early sign of carpal tunnel syndrome is waking up with numb hands, or difficulty making a fist.


With cervical radiculopathy, pain starts in the neck and can travel down the arm. Tingling and weakness of the muscles in the arm, shoulder, or hand can be felt, as well as a loss of sensation. Pain from turning the head also can feel severe or sharp.

Upper/middle back

With thoracic radiculopathy, pain and numbness present themselves by wrapping around to the front of the body. Pinched nerves in the upper and middle back are the least common areas for pinched nerves along the spine.

Lower back

With lumbar radiculopathy, typical symptoms of pain, tingling, and numbness present themselves in the leg and foot. Additionally, pinched nerves in the lower back may result in reflex loss in the leg.

Common Causes of Pinched Nerves

Nerves have to pass through very small spaces throughout the body. At those spaces, it’s easier for them to become compressed.

Pinched nerves are more common as you age, with wear and tear and gradual degeneration of areas such as the spine. Other causes include:

  • External force (such as hitting your elbow).
  • Swelling within the joints.
  • Bruises or cysts.

Diabetes and obesity also put you at a higher risk for getting compressed nerves.

Treatment for Pinched Nerves

Reducing pain and swelling in the area of the nerve compression is the number one goal of any treatment plan.

Long-term, the goal is to reduce the likelihood of muscle weakness or muscle loss due to the pinched nerve. There are methods of treating musculoskeletal pain without medication, such as with physical therapy, acupuncture, hot or cold therapy, stretching, and therapeutic massage, among others.

Other treatments may include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDS) for pain and swelling.
  • Prescribed corticosteroids or steroids to reduce inflammation and swelling, if NSAIDS are ineffective.
  • Rest or immobilization of the affected limb.

In severe cases, doctors may treat nerve compression surgically as a last resort for pinched nerve pain.

Pinched Nerve Treatment at UPMC Orthopaedic Care

An established leader in advanced orthopaedic care, UPMC Orthopaedic Care offers comprehensive services for the full spectrum of musculoskeletal conditions. Our orthopaedic experts have access to UPMC’s network of support services, allowing us to provide you with a full continuum of care — from diagnosis to treatment and beyond.

To learn more or schedule an appointment, please call 1-866-987-6784 or complete our online form.,sensation%20in%20the%20affected%20area.,sensation%20in%20the%20affected%20area.,to%20communicate%20with%20your%20brain.,the%20front%20of%20your%20body.

About UPMC Orthopaedic Care

When you are dealing with bone, muscle, or joint pain, it can affect your daily life. UPMC Orthopaedic Care can help. As a national leader in advanced orthopaedic care, we diagnose and treat a full range of musculoskeletal disorders, from the acute and chronic to the common and complex. We provide access to UPMC’s vast network of support services for both surgical and nonsurgical treatments and a full continuum of care. Our multidisciplinary team of experts will work with you to develop the treatment plan that works best for you. Our care team uses the most innovative tools and techniques to provide better outcomes. We also are leaders in research and clinical trials, striving to find better ways to provide our patients care. With locations throughout our communities, you can find a provider near you.