Dealing with the pain, tingling, numbness and limited mobility from a pinched nerve in the spine can be a frustrating experience. While getting a diagnosis for symptoms might reduce some anxiety, it doesn’t make the pain go away. In exploring pinched nerve treatments, knowing the full range of options available can help increase your chance of finding lasting pain relief.
However, it is important to consult with your doctor when trying any new treatment method to ensure it is right for your situation. The following guide to traditional pinched nerve treatments is intended to go over some options that have brought pain relief to affected patients.
The main goal of any pinched nerve treatment, especially for the spine, is to take pressure off the affected nerve. One of the simplest ways to do that is to stay off your feet. In addition to helping you avoid further aggravation by staying away from strenuous activity, rest can also help by decompressing the spine.
Since so much pressure is placed on the back from standing vertically, lying or sitting down with good back support can be a great source of relief. It is very important to alternate periods of rest with light activity, however, as too much rest over an extended period of time can lead to muscle atrophy.
Another way to take pressure off of a pinched nerve is through exercise, especially ones that stretch and strengthen the supporting muscles around the spine. Exercise can alternate well rest, but it is very important to make sure the exercises are low-impact so as not to further aggravate the nerve compression.
Yoga and Pilates are two types of exercise that offer a combination of stretching and strengthening core muscles. Having a strong core can take a lot of pressure off the spine and bring relief from pinched nerve pain. Make sure any exercise plan is approved by your primary care physician.
Many doctors will recommend the use of over-the-counter pain medication to relieve the symptoms of a pinched nerve in the spine. A particularly effective type of medication for nerve compression is nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication, like ibuprophen, naproxen and aspirin. Anti-inflammatories are designed to reduce swelling, which can take pressure off the nerve in many situations. Another recommended over-the-counter medication is acetaminophen. While not an anti-inflammatory, it is shown to be effective in reducing symptoms associated with a pinched nerve.
Alternating hot and cold compresses
Of all the traditional pinched nerve treatments, one of the simplest and most effective is the application of heat and ice to the area for alternating periods of time. Using a heating pad at a moderate temperature can both improve circulation and relax tense muscles, which can help with pain relief and the healing process.
Meanwhile, applying ice to the area provides relief by numbing the region and reducing the inflammation. While this is a relatively safe option for symptom relief, it is important to limit application of heat and ice to about 15 minutes at a time. For safety, it is generally recommended to wrap both ice-packs and heating pads in a towel to avoid direct exposure to the skin.
While making changes to your life does not necessarily provide instant relief, it is an effective long-term strategy with many benefits for pinched nerve treatment. Here are some of the primary modifications doctors recommend that can both relieve and help prevent compressed nerve symptoms:
- Weight loss — Carrying extra body weight, especially fat, puts unneeded pressure on the spine. Losing weight not only takes pressure off of a pinched nerve, but it also has a more holistic effect, improving cardiovascular health and strengthening the immune system.
- Quitting smoking — Smoking cigarettes is proven to reduce circulation, which can be especially damaging to parts of the spine like discs and joint linings which already receive a comparatively low level of circulation. Quitting smoking can slow down the degeneration of these parts, which can make other traditional pinched nerve treatments that much more effective.
- Posture correction — Sitting hunched over your desk or slouching while walking is one of the more subtle ways that pressure gets put on the spine. However, becoming more aware of your body and correcting bad posture habits can be surprisingly effective in providing relief for a pinched nerve.
A physical therapist can show you specific stretching and strengthening exercises that can target the area of nerve compression. Many therapists are also trained in therapeutic massage techniques that can be an enormous relief for painful symptoms. Seeing a licensed physical therapist, preferably one referred by your doctor, is the best way to get the benefits of exercise and massage while being carefully supervised by a professional.
Many patients are able to find lasting relief by working with a physician and following a plan of traditional pinched nerve treatments, but surgery can become an option if month after month of conservative treatments do not prove to be effective. If you are a potential candidate for open back surgery, be sure to discuss all potential risks and complications with your primary care physician.
You should also be aware of the full range of surgical options; there are often minimally invasive spine surgeries available that can reduce the recovery times and some of the risks associated with traditional open back surgery. Looking into this potentially safer alternative could help you find relief from pinched nerve pain and get you back to a healthier, more active life.