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A pinched nerve, also referred to as cervical radiculopathy, is an orthopedic condition that occurs when a nerve in the neck becomes compressed or irritated at the section where it branches away from the spinal cord. This nerve pathway leads into the arms, hands and fingers, which means the condition can affect these areas of the body as well. A pinched nerve in the lower back is also possible.
The primary symptom of a pinched nerve is pain that radiates into the arm, neck, chest, upper back and/or shoulders. Other signs and symptoms of pinched nerve in the neck or back can include:
The most common cause for a pinched nerve is the natural wear and tear that happens in the spine as people age. This can be due to degenerative conditions like arthritis or degenerative disc disease. For younger people, pinched nerves can happen because of an injury that causes a ruptured disc, such as a car accident or a bad fall. When disc material compresses or becomes inflamed, pain in the nerve root occurs.
In most cases, pinched nerves can be treated using conservative treatments, such as medications, physical therapy or a combination of both. Pain medications can include corticosteroids, which are anti-inflammatory drugs, or non-steroidal pain medications like ibuprofen or naproxen. Physical therapy, if needed, would focus on gentle traction and mobilization exercise to help reduce pain and relieve the pressure on the nerve. In extreme cases, surgery can be performed to relieve the pressure of the pinched nerve.