A pinched nerve is a very difficult condition to live with; the pain and related symptoms can bring your life to a screeching halt. Once-simple activities like grocery shopping or working in the yard can become painful ordeals. If you have been diagnosed with a pinched nerve in the neck or back, recovery time is so important because it represents a return to normal activity.
However, determining a pinched nerve recovery time is very difficult because it depends on so many factors, like the severity and location of the nerve compression, as well as the method of treatment. Having a greater understanding of how pinched nerves happen, the symptoms they cause and the range of treatment options available can be helpful in getting a better idea of when you will be able to get back to your regular lifestyle.
Pinched nerve overview
Another term for a pinched nerve is nerve compression, and it is what happens when continued pressure is placed on any nervous tissue in the body. This pressure is usually caused by some piece of displaced anatomy, like a strained muscle, sprained ligament or sometimes a fractured bone.
This is such a painful condition because the nerves themselves are what send sensory information to and from the brain. So, if there is pressure put on them, the pain can be particularly acute.
While a pinched nerve can happen anywhere in the body, the spine is one area that is more prone than others. This is because the spine is surrounded by bundles of very tightly packed nerves running through intricately connected parts of the spine that are prone to age-related breakdowns. These are some of the major spine conditions that are related to nerve compression:
- Spinal osteoarthritis
- Degenerative disc disease
- Herniated and bulging discs
- Spinal stenosis
Pinched nerve symptoms and treatment
Some of the specific symptoms of nerve compression usually reported by patients include shooting pains down the nerve, tingling, numbness and muscle weakness. Pain or irritation can be experienced directly at the site of the pinched nerve, but in many cases radiating symptoms are experienced in other parts of the body.
For example, sciatica is a condition that describes the pinching of the long sciatic nerve, and the symptoms that result. This pinching usually occurs in the lower spine, where the nerve originates, but pain and other symptoms are felt by most patients in the hips, buttocks, legs and even down to the feet.
After nerve compression has been located and diagnosed, your doctor can begin to discuss treatment options with you and begin to give you an idea of what your pinched nerve recovery time might look like. Most physicians will usually start to treat a pinched nerve in the neck or back with lighter treatments like anti-inflammatory medication, heating pads and cold compresses.
Recommendation can also be given to intersperse periods of rest with light exercise. Additionally, there are a number of lifestyle changes many patients can make that may reduce pinched nerve recovery time by improving overall health, such as:
- Weight loss
- Physical therapy exercises to strengthen supporting muscles
- Improved posture
- Quitting smoking
In many cases, following a physician recommended conservative treatment plan with the above methods can lead to recovery and return to normal activity in a period of weeks or months. While these therapies are not able to correct the pinched nerve, they can help you manage symptoms while a doctor monitors to see if there is any progress in the underlying condition.
Having realistic expectations of pinched nerve recovery time
If meaningful pain relief has not occurred after following a full course of conservative treatment, your doctor or spine care specialist may suggest spine surgery as a way to treat a pinched nerve at the source. Traditionally, back surgery has required large incisions that sever important supporting muscles in order to access the spine and decompress the pinched nerve.
While the majority of back surgeries do have positive outcomes for patients, there are some significant downsides to this type of procedure, including longer recuperation periods and scarring.
An option that more doctors and patients have been considering in the last decade is minimally invasive spine surgery. These procedures use state-of-the-art technology to allow surgeons to treat nerve compression by accessing the spine through much smaller incisions. These procedures can dramatically reduce pinched nerve recovery time because supporting muscles are spared.
Some minimally invasive spine surgery can be performed on an outpatient basis, avoiding the need for overnight hospitalization. As you research treatment options for a pinched nerve, be sure to research all options that may be able to get you back to normal activity in a shorter time.