Nerve impingement is a condition in which a nerve is trapped or pressed by a nearby structure. This impingement can be caused by broken bones, swollen ligaments, bone spurs, or ruptured discs. Although nerve impingement is often related to the back and spine, it can occur anywhere in the body, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and ulnar nerve dysfunction. Anytime a nerve is trapped or impeded by another body structure, the signs and symptoms of nerve involvement and nerve damage are likely to manifest.
Scott liked playing football well into his adult years. Although he didn’t make it to the pros, he managed to find a semi-pro league in his city that allowed him to play once per week. As a quarterback, he threw several hundred times per week. This eventually led to pain that travelled down his arm to his fingertips. When he spoke with the trainer, he found that a disc in his neck had ruptured and was pressing on the nerve that served his hand. With some rest and physical therapy, he was back to throwing touchdowns within a month.
At SoCal Pain Center, we know well the many ways that nerves can cause pain in the body. In addition to treating such back nerve impingement problems as sciatica, we also help with the pain that arises from damage to nerves in the hands and feet. We can guide you through physical therapy to remove the impingement and help you with medications to ease nerve pain.
Nerve impingement can be caused by a variety of factors. The first factor is direct physical trauma. For instance, your wrist is broken in a fall, and the shards of the bone are now pressing on the nerves of the hand. This can occur anywhere in the body, such as the back. Another cause of impingement is the swelling of ligaments near the nerve. In the back, the ligaments to support the spinal column often run very close to the nerve roots. When these ligaments become swollen due to over use or inflammatory process, they can press on the nerves nearby.
One of the most common causes of nerve impingement is the rupture of a disc in the spinal column. These jelly-like pads can become brittle due to age or may rupture due to direct trauma. The jelly will often leak out of the pad, or herniate, and press on nerve roots running close to the spine. Other causes of nerve impingement include bone spurs from the chronic rubbing of ligaments or narrowing of the area that contains the nerve, such as in carpal tunnel syndrome.
The symptoms of nerve impingement are related to the actual functions of the nerve itself. When it is impinged, the nerve is not capable of fulfilling its role, and this causes dysfunction. One of the first signs noted is pain. The nerve may communicate pain in an area far from where the impingement takes place. For instance, a nerve root impinged in the lower back and cause pain in the leg. This is because the nerve travels along the leg from the spinal cord, and this can cause the pain anywhere the nerve services.
Other signs include weakness. The nerve is responsible for initiating movement in the limb, and when it is pinched, it cannot get that impulse through effectively. Paralysis is sometimes seen with nerve impingement, but this is reserved for severe and rare cases. You may also feel numbness in the limb. Nerves are responsible for reporting sensation back to the brain, and if the nerve is damaged, it cannot interpret stimuli from that area. Some people also experience tingling, which is a closely related symptom to numbness. The tingling indicates that confused or incomplete messages are getting through.
The treatment of nerve impingement largely focuses on the primary cause of the condition and its location. If it is caused by direct physical trauma, then a surgeon may need to remove the parts of the body that are interfering with the nerve. For instance, with a broken wrist, the wrist will be reconstructed and the nerves will not experience entrapment any longer.
In cases where the problem comes from inflamed ligaments or tissues, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can help to decrease swelling, take pressure off the nerve, and reduce pain. Some medications are often used for nerve pain that were originally intended for other conditions. For instance, some tricyclic anti-depressants can help to restore nerve conduction, and some anti-seizure medications are now commonly prescribed for nerve pain.
If you have a condition of the back where a disc is ruptured, it does not necessarily mean that you need surgery. In fact, with physical therapy, ice, heat, and rest, the disc can oftentimes heal on its own. Only in rare circumstances do spinal surgeons perform spinal fusion or discectomy procedures. These surgeries have risks of their own, and sometimes they do not relieve pain.
At the SoCal Pain Center, we can help you with all of your nerve impingement needs. We will help you determine what exactly is causing your nerve symptoms, and supply you with a treatment plan that will target your particular condition. We can help with physical therapy, medication management, and chiropractic, as needed. Contact us today for a consultation.