While it can be distressing to be diagnosed with a pinched nerve in your neck or back, you might be glad to learn that effective and accessible treatment is possible. Although surgery might be the first thing you think of when it comes to treating nerve compression and underlying conditions like a herniated disc or arthritis, the truth is that many patients are able to find lasting relief through nonsurgical, conservative options.
In fact, some of the most effective remedies for pinched nerve symptoms of tingling, numbness and shooting pains can be performed at home without the need to visit your doctor or a specialist. Even though pinched nerve home treatment doesn’t require the direct supervision of a medical professional, you should always consult your primary care physician for diagnosis and treatment of any neck or back pain.
This is a popular option because it is both an effective and simple way to find relief from the symptoms of nerve compression. Applying a moderate amount of heat to any area where pain is experienced serves double duty as the heat both relaxes tense and sore muscles and improves circulation, which aids the body’s healing process. Limit periods with a heating pad to manufacturer or doctor recommendations to avoid overheating, and never use while sleeping.
Similarly, applying an ice-pack to the area of the pinched nerve can provide a strong combination of relief for both pain and inflammation. This is because the cold acts as a numbing agent while also reducing swelling. The general recommendation for a cold compression therapy is to limit it to sessions of 10 – 15 minutes at a time to reduce any risk of nerve damage from exposure to the cold. It is also a good idea to wrap an ice pack in a towel to avoid direct skin contact. Many patients find alternating hot and cold for intervals to be an especially effective treatment.
While rest is a very important part of the treatment process for a pinched nerve, too much inactivity can actually be harmful. In addition to the potential for muscle atrophy, prolonged periods of rest can lead to cardiovascular decline. Having a strong heart and strong muscles are key aspects of overall health that can help to reduce the symptoms of a pinched nerve in the neck or back. A program of low-impact exercise, like aerobics, can help you achieve both of these things.
A standard recommendation for an aerobic workout is about 20 minutes of slightly elevated heart rate; some simple ways to achieve this around the house is through walking, aerobics videos, or a stationary bike. Make sure any exercise plan is within your physical ability level and has the approval of your primary care physician or a physical therapist.
Good eating habits can have a positive effect on a pinched nerve as it can both contribute to weight loss and ensure your body is receiving the required nutrients for recovery and healing. Your primary care doctor or a registered dietician can help you formulate a balanced diet that follows some of these important guidelines:
- Calories — Calories represent an estimate of your body’s energy needs on one end and the potential energy contained in food on the other. Eating the right amount of calories, without over- or under-eating, is an important part of maintaining a healthy weight.
- Macronutrients — Macronutrient is a general term that represents the nutrients in food needed for basic functioning like energy and growth. The three main types of macronutrients are carbohydrates, fat and protein. Properly balancing the amount of each can have a positive effect on metabolism and muscle development and recovery.
- Micronutrients — These are nutrients that are only required to be consumed in trace amounts, like vitamins and minerals, but are still essential for health and wellness. Good micro-nutrition can be achieved through eating the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables.
While eating right may not have an instant therapeutic effect, it is a pinched nerve home treatment that, if done consistently over time, can have a positive effect.
When is it time to seek outside help?
Following a physician-approved plan of pinched nerve home treatment is highly effective for a large number of patients. Many are able to either recover completely from a pinched spinal nerve or at least find a level of relief that allows for a good quality of life.
Sometimes, stronger interventions outside the home are required, including prescription medication, physical therapy or epidural steroid injections. However, there are situations when an extended period of even these treatments aren’t effective in bringing about needed pain relief for a full, active life. It is these situations where neck or back surgery may be considered.
For a long time, back surgery has been a scary, highly invasive prospect that most doctors would view as a last resort. This is because traditional open back surgery requires a large incision that severs muscles in order to access the spine and treat a pinched nerve at the source.
There are now alternatives to this form of surgery as more and more surgeons are learning about the benefits of minimally invasive spine surgery. These procedures use smaller incisions that accomplish the same goals as traditional surgery but with a much shorter recovery time and lower risk of complication. In some cases, they can even be done on an outpatient basis. If you are a candidate for back surgery, ask your doctor if the surgeons they are referring you to perform minimally invasive spine procedures.