The symptoms of a pinched nerve, also sometimes referred to as radiculopathy, may include tingling, radiating pain, burning pain, numbness, or a decrease in sensation affecting a specific body part, such as the back, neck, legs, feet, or arms. Paresthesia, or the feeling of pins and needles prickling beneath the skin, is also a common symptom. Occasionally, it may cause twitching muscles or muscle weakness. One of the most commonly reported symptoms, however, is a sensation that a limb has fallen asleep.
When a nerve is pressed by something like a herniated disk, a bone, or a tendon, it can cause problems in the part of the body that the nerve serves. Often, this is caused by an underlying condition that has caused pressure on the nerve, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, a back injury, or arthritis. Although compression most commonly occurs in the back and the neck, any nerve in the body can become pinched.
The symptoms of a pinched nerve may come and go throughout the course of a day or may depend on the activity a person is doing In some individuals, symptoms are always present, but only worsen during particular activities. As a disorder, radiculopathy is commonly divided into two types: lumbar and cervical. Lumbar radiculopathy refers specifically to symptoms in the lower back, while cervical radiculopathy refers to problem in the neck.
A pinched nerve in the lower back will produce numbness, paresthesia, pain, and muscle spasms. It may also produce a radiating pain beginning in the back and extending down the length of one or both legs. In some people, the nerve may become further aggravated when actions like laughing or sneezing place additional pressure on the abdomen.
An affected nerve in the neck will produce similar symptoms, but the pain will be relegated more to the neck and shoulder area. Often, the symptoms are relieved by over-the-counter creams and ointments, which provide temporary relief from pain, or from prescribed medications. In severe cases, however, surgery may be necessary to relieve the pressure.
Other problems can also be triggered by a pinched nerve, including a loss of sleep, irritability, and depression. Each of these is related to the pain and discomfort originally produced by the nerve problem, which often leads to impaired mobility and emotional disturbances.