Pinched nerves are incredibly common injuries. Once a nerve is pinched, you may experience, burning, numbness, pain, or itching throughout the nerve. The symptoms can range in intensity from mild irritation to excruciating pain.
The good news is that much of the pain from pinched nerves can be relieved with rest, icing the area, and taking an over-the-counter NSAID (a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) like Ibruprofen, Aspirin, or Naproxen. However, if pain persists, you may benefit from physical therapy.
Nerves can become pinched when a muscle or joint becomes inflamed and the inflamed tissue presses against the nerve. Injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, repetitive tasks, and simply being overweight can put pressure on a nerve.
To ease nerve pain, you need to must reduce inflammation. That is why NSAIDs, rest, and ice are often the first course of treatment. However, some pinched nerves don’t respond to this. That’s when it’s a good idea to visit a physical therapist to help you relieve your nerve pain.
Physical therapy treatment depends on the underlying cause of the pinched nerve. For example, if you have sciatica, stretching the muscles in your lower back will open up the area around the nerve and relieve some pressure from the nerve.
If you have nerve damage from an injury, a physical therapist will show you exercises to strengthen muscles that were injured as well as those compensating for the injury.
Often during an injury, you carry weight awkwardly and on the opposite side of the body from the injury. This can cause pinched nerves near the injury as well as in the areas compensating for it. Strengthening both sets of muscles will help take the pressure off the nerve by allowing specific groups of muscles to distribute the weight, taking the pressure off the muscle or joint with the pinched nerve.
If the pinched nerve is due to a chronic condition, a physical therapist will work with you to determine what types of activities are causing the inflammation to find a way to relieve the pressure on the nerve.
An example of this is that sometimes pain is caused by poor posture and can be impacted by muscle memory and the patient’s body naturally returning to the poor posture. If you slouch, lean to one side when you sit or carry a heavy purse on your shoulder, it affects your posture and throws off your body’s alignment, which puts pressure on nerves. In this case, exercises that strengthen the back and core are often prescribed to improve posture and relieve pressure on the nerve.
On the other hand, if you are experiencing a pinched nerve in your spine, you may benefit from back and core strengthening exercises to help support your spine and reduce the pressure on the vertebrae and disks. This will transfer the weight load to the muscles and take the weight off your spine, relieving pressure on the nerve.
You also may want to consider something called neuromuscular retraining. According to PHYSIS a clinic that specializes in physical therapy in NYC, this kind of therapy works with your nerves and muscles in relation to each other can potentially get you faster results.
Physical therapists may also use Interferential Current Therapy or other electro stimulation therapy (or E-Stim) methods to desensitize your nerves and provide short-term analgesic relief of nerve pain. This helps to quickly alleviate nerve pain while you’re going through physical therapy.
Your physical therapist will start your therapy by examining you and may have you fill out a questionnaire or ask questions. He or she will also review any x-rays, imaging, or information from your primary care physician and medical history to determine what therapies will work for you.
At the very least, you will likely perform stretches and exercises during your first visit. Your PT will correct your posture and give you information on how to improve your nerve pain using a variety of methods.
Before you leave, he or she will likely prescribe specific exercises for you to complete on your own at home. This is a huge part of your therapy, so it’s important to follow through, even if the exercises are uncomfortable for you at first.
The information that a physical therapist provides is like an ongoing prescription for nerve pain. Continue your therapy as prescribed and discuss any concerns that you have with your doctor and therapist.