5 Signs You Have a Pinched Nerve
Symptoms range from a slight numbness to radiating pain.
You have numbness
Numbness is one of the initial pinched nerve symptoms, according to Barbara Bergin, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon. That's because when a nerve is compressed, the regular flow of signals is interrupted causing that desensitized feeling, the Laser Spine Institute reports. Untreated numbness could result in permanent nerve damage, so Dr. Bergin urges patients experiencing this symptom not to "work through it" in the hopes that it will get better by itself. "If it goes away, great," Dr. Bergin says. "But if it doesn't then seek consultation with your primary care doctor or an orthopedic surgeon." Anthony Giuffrida, MD, adds that most patients ignore numbness at first, but in some cases, they might not notice it at all. Don't miss the surprising reasons you may have back pain.
Or you have tingling
Similarly, and in addition to numbness, tingling or a pins and needles feeling is a common sign of a pinched nerve, according to Allen S. Chen, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Rehabilitation and Regenerative Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. "Usually, [numbness and tingling] follow a distinct pattern based on which nerve is pinched," Dr. Chen says. "Symptoms from pinched nerves tend to be constant, and affect the same area." So pain that moves around or switches from side to side is less likely due to a pinched nerve, says Dr. Chen.
You have shooting, radiating pain
One of the most common and obvious of the pinched nerve symptoms is pain. Nerve pain radiates and travels across more than one joint to other body parts, according to Dr. Giuffrida. Contrary to what many people believe, Dr. Chen says the lower back isn't the most common spot for pinched nerve pain—the arms and legs are. For example, pain radiating from the buttocks might go across the knee and into the calf due to a pinched nerve, since no bones or tendons go across all those areas, Dr. Bergin says.
In comparison, pain associated with a herniated disc or a pulled muscle will stay localized in one main area, Dr. Giuffrida notes. That said, herniated disks could cause pinched nerves, according to Dr. Chen. "These disc bulges or herniations, depending on where they are, can then put pressure on the nerve roots as they traverse through the canal," he says. These are the pain symptoms you should never ignore.
You have weakness
Arm, hand, leg, or foot weakness are other pinched nerve symptoms stemming from long-term nerve pressure. According to the Laser Spine Institute, however, weakness isn't always immediately traced back to a nerve problem. So people often waste time trying to treat the symptom, muscle weakness, instead of addressing the root cause of the problem, per the Laser Spine Institute. Plus, because a pinched nerve might not be receiving nutrients, the nerve fibers may die or stop working causing muscles to contract improperly, according to the Laser Spine Institute. Dr. Chen adds that weakness could be a sign of a more severe pinched nerve, and recommends seeking medical attention if this occurs. These are the signs your muscle pain is something worse.
You have these very rare symptoms in addition to the more common ones
Some uncommon pinched nerve symptoms are related to severe nerve or spinal cord pinching that could lead to various neurological issues. Some examples include the loss of bowel or bladder control, balance issues, or numbness in the genitals or rectum, according to Dr. Chen. If any of these rare symptoms occur, Dr. Chen warns people should seek immediate medical attention at the closest emergency room. Next, check out the secrets pain doctors won't tell you.