You may be dealing with a stiff neck or neck pain that radiates down into your arm and you are not sure why. It is possible that you have a pulled muscle or a trapped nerve in your neck. Let us discuss the causes, symptoms and treatments for a pinched nerve in the neck and learn more about why your neck hurts. We will also discuss ways that you can find some relief and how to prevent this from happening. By knowing the warning signs you will be able to determine if it is time to see your physician or not.
A pinched nerve is caused by compression of the nerve. Repetitive motions or even keeping your body in a single position for a long time may cause compression. Other causes of nerve compression in the neck include the following:
- Bone spurs
- Herniated disc
- Spinal Stenosis or narrowing of the spinal canal
Signs and Symptoms
Occasionally neck muscle pain may be the only sign of a pinched nerve in the neck. It is also possible that you will have other symptoms without any pain. Some of the most common signs of a compressed nerve in the neck include the following:
- Weakness/muscle atrophy
- A burning sensation, also referred to as “pins and needles”
- Numbness or tingling
- Radicular pain or sciatica
- Trouble sleeping
Nerve compression in your neck may cause these symptoms in areas including your:
Along with a stiff neck, these symptoms can cause conditions that include the following;
- Tennis elbow
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Peripheral neuropathy
How long it takes treatment to work varies from one person to the next. The type of treatment used also varies depending on the severity of the nerve compression is and the cause of it. You may find that you simply need to rest the area and avoid certain activities.
Many sufferers of a pinched nerve in the neck will be interested in trying home remedies before seeking medical attention for their pain. Some popular home remedies include the following treatments:
- Hot and cold therapy – this treatment will alleviate pain, inflammation and muscle spasms in the neck. Alternate between hot and cold therapy every 20 minutes, using a hot water bottle, or warm, moist towel for the heat therapy and an ice pack for the cold. If an ice pack is not available, you can even use a bag of frozen vegetables as a cold pack.
- Exercises – One way to relieve neck pain is by doing some light stretching of the neck muscles. Gently turn your head to one side and hold it in place for approximately 30 seconds. Repeat this exercise in different positions. Take care not to overextend the neck muscles; otherwise, you may cause further damage or complications. Additionally, a simple hand-held massage unit may provide some relief to the pain in your neck.
- Rest – Rest tops the list as the most commonly recommended home remedy for pinched nerves. Resting the area will enhance healing and is a critical step in recovery. Lie down periodically during the day and rest your neck and head. Use cervical pillows whenever possible to support the neck. Do not overdue rest though because overdoing it can cause the muscles to grow stiff, making it more difficult to move them.
When home remedies do not work, other options may be considered including neck surgery, acupuncture or a visit to a chiropractor. Surgery is often considered as a last resort when other options do not offer any relief from symptoms. Surgery is also considered if additional weaknesses in the muscles develop. This may a sign of serious nerve damage.
This type of surgery depends on the location of the pinched nerve. For instance, if the nerve is pinched in the wrist or elbow, the surgeon can help to release the tissue that covers the nerve and relieve the pressure. If the pinched nerve is located in the neck, the surgeon can safely remove a portion of the disc or any of the bone spurs that are causing the nerve to be compressed. In severe cases, where large portions of bone must be removed, the surgeon may have to perform a spinal fusion to stabilize the spine.
Consider the following tips to help prevent getting a stiff neck, a pulled muscle or pinched nerve in the neck.
- Avoid slouching. Instead, use proper posture to keep your spine properly aligned. Proper posture while sitting includes keeping your lower back fully supported and your feet flat on the floor in front of you. You should avoid sitting for more than 30 minutes without taking a break to stretch your muscles.
- If you spend several hours each day on a computer, make sure and adjust the screen so that the top of it is level with your eyes. Use a document holder to keep your work at eye level.
- If you spend a lot of time on the telephone, do not hold the phone between your shoulder and your ear as many people do. This causes unnecessary stress on your neck muscles.
- The position that you sleep in is a huge factor in pinched nerves in the neck. Avoid sleeping on your stomach with your neck twisted. If you have suffered with a pinched nerve in the neck, you should opt to sleep with a cervical pillow to prevent it from happening again.
- Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly to help avoid pinched nerves. Obesity is one of the main causes of pinched nerves in both the neck and the lumbar spine.
When it is at all possible, take measures to prevent a pinched nerve in the neck. Some of these preventative measures include improving your posture and maintaining a healthy weight. In some cases, a pinched nerve is unavoidable. When other treatments do not work, neck surgery may be the only option. Some things that you can try at home may offer relief before it will become absolutely necessary to see your doctor.