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Nerve Injuries / Impingement

Nerves serve as the communication system of our bodies, sending important messages to and from the brain so that proper functioning can take place.  Injuries to the nerves can result in significant disturbance of communication and often results in warning signals such as pain.  When nerves are injured, it’s important to heed these warning signals because nerves don’t easily regenerate and some damage may not be reversible.  The earlier you get medical attention to injured nerves, the more likely function can be restored and any pain relieved.

Pinched nerves are a common nerve injury.  Nerves become “pinched” when there is pressure or compression from surround tissues or from another other source.  The pressure is often from inflamed muscles that have been strained or damaged.  Repetitive motions or an injury can cause damage to muscles that surround the nerves causing the nerves to become compressed.  Sometimes just being in an awkward position for too long can put pressure or cut off circulation to a nerve or nerves, causing numbness, tingling or pain because a nerve is being compressed.

Nerves run all through our bodies making up a complex and intricate nervous system that keeps our hearts beating and muscles moving.  Nerves are most vulnerable when they are close to the surface with very little soft tissue to protect them.  For example, nerve compression (impingement) can result in neck or lower back pain when inflammation or pressure on a nerve root exits the spine at those locations.  Nerve impingement syndrome can also occur in the neck and shoulder when structures like the collar bone or the ligaments and tendons of the shoulder compress on the nerves that run through that area.  When this happens, it causes pain to radiate from the neck down the shoulder and arm and this is called cervical radiculopathy.  When it happen in the lower back and pain radiates down the leg and foot, it is known as lumbar radiculopathy or sciatic nerve pain.

The neck and lower back are not the only areas that can experience nerve impingement.  Other common areas include the elbows, hands, wrists, and fingers.  Nerve compression in the wrists and hands is known as carpal tunnel syndrome.   When nerve compression lasts a long time, the protective line or sheath around the nerve starts to break down and swelling and scarring begins.  Scarring interferes with the nerve’s function and is difficult to repair.  Early treatment for inflamed or impinged nerves typically involve nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen to reduce swelling.  If the pain and inflammation persist despite NSAIDs and physical therapy, steroids taken orally or injected may be used.  Surgery is often reserved for last resort but may be required to remove or break apart scar tissue that has formed from prolonged irritation of the nerve.