Pinched nerves are painful and often debilitating injuries, but people can have difficulty knowing when they have one and whether they should seek treatment. Workplace activities and accidents are common causes of pinched nerves.
If you sustained this type of injury while performing your job duties, you might be eligible for workers’ compensation.
When you have an injury that qualifies for workers’ comp, you need a doctor who understands workplace injuries and the rules for treatment and compensation. What is a pinched nerve, and how is one treated?
Read on to find out everything you need to know about this common workplace injury.
What is a Pinched Nerve?
Your central nervous system (CNS) runs from your brain down the length of your spinal cord. Your peripheral nervous system (PNS) branches off the CNS from each nerve root and spreads throughout your body.
This system is responsible for neuromuscular health and communicates motor and sensory information between the brain and various parts of the body to keep everything functioning. A pinched nerve occurs when surrounding soft tissues or bones put excess pressure on the nerve, leading to compression of the fibers.
Inflammation and broken or dislocated bones push into the space the nerve normally occupies. When you have a pinched nerve, it may communicate sensory information to your brain, letting you know you have an issue.
How do You Know if You Have a Pinched Nerve?
Radiculopathy is the medical term for a pinched nerve, and the condition ranges from mild to severe. Many people ask, “How long does a pinched nerve last?” The answer varies depending on how severe the injury is, where it occurs and whether the individual seeks treatment.
Not everyone experiences the same symptoms, making it essential to seek a doctor’s diagnosis to verify the condition. A workers’ compensation physician can also develop a plan for how to treat a pinched nerve that gets you back on your feet and fulfills state guidelines.
Pinched Nerve Locations
Radiculopathy can occur in almost any location that has nerves running through it. However, this injury most often happens at the joints, where the fibers pass through small openings. Common areas for pinched nerves include:
- Cervical radiculopathy: Compressed nerves in the cervical vertebrae impact the neck and shoulders, causing neck pain and discomfort in the surrounding area.
- Thoracic and lumbar radiculopathy: Pinched nerves that occur along the spinal column below the neck affect the upper and lower back as well as the chest.
- Arm and elbow pinched nerves: Compression of any nerve in the arm and elbow is possible, but it most often occurs in the ulnar nerve. This bundle of fibers is the same one that you feel when you hit your “funny bone,” and it has no protection from soft tissues at the elbow joint.
- Wrist and hand pinched nerves: Radiculopathy in the wrist or hand usually arises from compression of the median nerve.
While the above are the most common places people experience pinched nerves, they aren’t the only ones. You can pinch a nerve in your hip or knee, for instance.
If you’re asking, “What is a pinched nerve?” you need to know what symptoms the condition may cause. Understanding the signs of radiculopathy can help you determine whether you might be experiencing nerve compression before finding out how to treat a pinched nerve.
Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve
The signs of a compressed nerve can vary from person to person. For some, the only way they know something is wrong is that they feel pain at the site of the compression. Others don’t have pain, but they may have one or more of the other symptoms. Possible signs of radiculopathy include:
- Pain: Pain from a compressed nerve most often occurs at the injury location. If you have a pinched median nerve, you usually feel pain in your wrist, where the nerve passes through the carpal tunnel.
- Radiating pain: Sometimes, the pain radiates away from the injury site. For example, you may have a pinched nerve in your lumbar vertebra but feel the pain in your sciatic nerve, which runs from your spine down the back of your hips and into your legs.
- Numbness: A compressed nerve can lead to a loss of feeling in the region of the injury.
- Tingling: If you have a pinched nerve, you may also experience a tingling sensation along the nerve. You may also get the “pins and needles” feeling people get when an extremity “falls asleep.”
- Burning: The affected nerve may feel like it’s burning.
- Weakness: When you ask, “What is a pinched nerve?” one of the symptoms you might not expect is weakness. Some of your nerves control muscle movement. If you injure them, they cannot perform as they should, so your muscles don’t operate effectively.
When people experience symptoms, certain types of movement may make their symptoms worse due to added pressure on the nerves. If you have cervical radiculopathy, you may feel more pain in your neck when you turn your head in a particular way. Your symptoms may also worsen while you sleep.
If you’re looking for an answer to the question “how long does a pinched nerve last?” your symptoms won’t provide an indication. You need a workers’ compensation doctor to diagnose the condition and tell you how to treat a pinched nerve so you don’t have lasting symptoms or experience complications.
Pinched Nerve Diagnosis
If you suspect you have a pinched nerve from a workplace injury, it’s good to schedule an appointment with a workers’ compensation doctor who can assess your symptoms and diagnose the issue. Waiting to have a pinched nerve diagnosed can lead to worsening symptoms and potential complications.
The doctor may be able to diagnose a pinched nerve after talking to you about your symptoms, the tasks you perform on the job or the accident that led to your symptoms, and conducting a physical examination. However, the physician may also need to run some tests to pinpoint the issue and determine whether there are any underlying conditions or complications.
Tests may include:
- X-rays: An X-ray reveals any structural problems in the bones that may lead to radiculopathy, such as a narrow carpal tunnel.
- Computed tomography (CT) scan: CT scans are similar to X-rays, but they provide more details through 3-D imagery. Doctors frequently use these to examine the spine for injuries.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRIs show the doctor images of the soft tissue surrounding the nerve, indicating when damage to those tissues is the source of the pinched nerve.
- Nerve conduction study: This test examines how well your nerves function by measuring the electrical signals they send. The study can indicate whether you have damage.
- Electromyography (EMG): EMGs test muscle functioning. It is like a nerve conduction study, but it measures muscle response to electrical signals from nerves. Doctors frequently combine EMGs and nerve conduction studies.
Once you receive a diagnosis, you will work with an orthopedic doctor on how to treat a pinched nerve that is specific to your condition. A pinched nerve medically reviewed by an expert has a good chance of being properly treated.
What Types of Workplace Injuries Cause Pinched Nerves?
Compressed nerves are common workplace injuries. They can occur suddenly or gradually. Trauma from a slip-and-fall accident can lead to a pinched nerve when inflammation or swelling occurs.
People who have jobs that involve awkward movements such as twisting, lifting or pulling often injure the discs in their spinal column. A slipped disc can cause radiculopathy.
Repetitive-use injuries are prevalent in numerous industries. Carpal tunnel syndrome is among the most well-known nerve compression conditions, and an estimated 3-6% of the adult population in the U.S. has it.
Though people can get carpal tunnel syndrome from engaging in hobbies and sports that involve repetitive use of the wrists, they frequently get it from the duties they perform on the job.
How long does a pinched nerve last when you have carpal tunnel syndrome? If you keep performing the tasks that cause it and don’t get treatment for it, you could have the condition indefinitely and may experience complications from it as well.
How do You Heal a Pinched Nerve?
How you heal a nerve compression injury depends on how the injury occurred and how severe it is. Your workers’ comp doctor will likely provide you with a non-surgical treatment regimen to start. A pinched nerve treated surgically is usually a last-resort option.
How to Treat a Pinched Nerve Without Surgery
Orthopedic doctors treat musculoskeletal system injuries and conditions. If you suffer from a pinched nerve, you may want to seek treatment from an orthopedist.
Depending on your injury and your job, your physician may recommend that you stay home from work. Workers’ comp insurance covers lost wages if you can’t work for more than seven days. It also covers your medical care if it meets New York’s requirements for compensation.
An orthopedic doctor specializing in treating workplace injuries can help you with the documentation you need and understands the rules for medical treatment. The doctor may draw up a non-surgical plan that includes:
Resting and immobilizing the injured area:
You may need to refrain from using the injured part. Your doctor may also have you wear a cervical collar for pinched nerves in the neck or a splint for nerve compression in the wrists to relieve pressure.
Ice and heat: You may need to alternate between ice and heat applications, especially in the early days.
Medication: The doctor may suggest that you take over-the-counter medications to relieve pain, or prescribe corticosteroids for more severe pain.
Physical therapy: Your orthopedist may give you some physical therapy exercises and stretches to perform at home to encourage healing. You may also need to see a physical therapist for more involved therapy sessions.
Your doctor may recommend surgery for more serious radiculopathy or when non-surgical treatments don’t work.
How To Treat a Pinched Nerve With Surgery
When people ask, “What is a pinched nerve, and how do you treat it?” they rarely expect the answer to involve surgery. However, there are times when surgery is necessary to repair the damage. The appropriate surgical procedure would depend on what type of radiculopathy or nerve damage you have.
- Carpal tunnel release surgery: More than 400,000 people undergo this type of surgery every year. The surgery involves cutting the ligament around the carpal tunnel, opening up the space to provide more room for the nerve to pass through.
- Cervical surgery: When the pinched nerve results from bone spurs or an injury to the cervical column of the spine, you may need surgery to remove the spurs or damaged tissues that press down on the nerve.
- Discectomy: When a disc in the spine compresses the nerve, a surgeon may perform a discectomy, removing the disc section that presses down on the nerve.
If you require surgery, your recovery time will depend on the type of surgery you have. You may also need physical and rehabilitation therapy to recover from the surgery.
How Long Does a Pinched Nerve Last?
How long radiculopathy lasts varies. If you have a mild condition, you may feel better within days.
For more severe cases, you may experience symptoms for weeks or months, especially if you don’t seek treatment. Getting the right kind of help for your injury can speed up your recovery time and prevent complications.
What Happens if You Don’t Treat a Pinched Nerve?
Sometimes, a pinched nerve heals on its own. However, you may not heal without treatment when a workplace accident or repetitive motion injury causes the condition.
If the compressed nerve persists, you may experience complications and risk permanent damage. Continued compression can eventually wear down the nerve’s protective sheath, leading to fluid build-up, swelling and scarring, and reducing nerve functioning.
Where Can You Get Treatment for a Pinched Nerve?
If you’re asking, “What is a pinched nerve?” it might be time to make an appointment with a doctor who can diagnose and treat your condition. When the condition results from a workplace injury, you need a doctor who understands New York’s and New Jersey’s workers’ compensation requirements.
At Workers’ Comp Doctor, we help you get the care you need. We maintain a directory of qualified doctors who have experience with workers compensation insurance. Search for a doctor in your area and schedule your appointment today.