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Pinched Nerves—A Painful and Common Condition

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Have you ever had that sensation that your foot has fallen asleep? Sometimes it’s easy to determine why this happens, like when you are sitting in an odd position or something. But if your hand or foot feels as if it has fallen asleep pretty often, with no obvious cause, you might be dealing with a pinched nerve.

As the term implies, pinched nerves occur when a nerve has too much pressure on it from either the surrounding bones, muscles, tendons, or cartilage. This pressure can lead to a variety of symptoms including weakness, pain, tingling, or as stated above, that the area has fallen asleep.

Pinched nerves can actually occur anywhere in the body, and sometimes the pain will radiate from the area to somewhere else. For example, if you have a pinched nerve in your wrist you might end up with numb hands and fingers. Or a pinched nerve in your back can lead to aching feet. With pinched nerves, any pain that you are experiencing will often get worse while you are sleeping.

According to Mayo Clinic’s website, several risk factors can increase your chances of having to deal with a pinched nerve. For example, having poor posture will cause pressure on your spine and nerves. Osteoporosis may lead to pinched nerves, as can obesity and overuse and repetitive motions. And for some people, pinched nerves are hereditary.

If you feel like you may be suffering from a pinched nerve, you should probably check in with your physician if the pain does not go away after several days of at-home care (rest, pain relievers like Advil or Tylenol), or if your mobility is becoming compromised.

At your appointment your doctor will probably ask you several questions about the location and severity of your pain, so keeping a pain journal might help you keep everything straight. You may also undergo one or more tests to confirm the diagnosis, including a nerve conduction study, an MRI, or something called electromyography, which tests how your muscles produce electrical charges.

Treatments for pinched nerves range from rest and ibuprofen to surgery. Fortunately, in most cases the former situation is way more common than the latter. Oftentimes the pain will completely vanish in a few days or weeks. If the pinched nerve happened from overuse, your doctor will probably tell you to cut back or stop doing whatever activity led to the problem.

In the case of carpal tunnel syndrome, if you cannot curtail your use of a computer or whatever repetitive motion led to the problem, you may need to wear a splint on one or both hands to keep the area as still as possible. Some people even end up wearing the splints at night, which can feel pretty funny at first but may really speed up healing.

Pinched nerves can be very painful, so it is important to avoid the things that may cause them to occur. If you are overweight, losing weight can really help prevent pinched nerves from forming. Try to limit repetitive motions as much as you can, and if your job involves this type of movement take frequent breaks to give your body a rest. And just like your Mom may have told you years ago, watch your posture.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.