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What is a “pinched nerve”?

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

So commonly I hear patients say something along the lines of “my neck hurts and I have some tingling in my hands. My doctor said I have a pinched nerve”.

Ever wondered what this really means? And most importantly, how can physical therapy ease the symptoms and help you get back to what you love doing?

The expression “pinched nerve” is a term used to indicate what we know as radiculopathy. It most commonly refers to the clinical description of when a nerve root is irritated, and as a result of this irritation you can experience pain or tingling along the course of nerves coming from that specific nerve root.

A radiculopathy can result in numbness, weakness of some muscles or changes in reflexes, and all these symptoms can occur anywhere from the neck into the shoulder, arm, hand, or fingers.

Good news is that the majority of patients with cervical radiculopathy get better over time and do not need treatment. However, for some people, pain still persists and a pinched nerve can really get in the way of living your regular life. Pain might stop you from working, from sleeping well, from playing an instrument, playing with your kids or cooking. Because of pain you might move less and the lack of moment can make the neck even more sensitive and less prepared for everyday activities.

That’s when physical therapy can help!

The main focus of physical therapy for a person experiencing symptoms of cervical radiculopathy is decreasing the pain and disability. Because there are other pathologies that have the same or similar signs and symptoms of radiculopathy, your physical therapist will conduct a thorough examination (assessing range of motion, strength, joint mobility, reflexes and functional movements), ask you about your experience with this pain and also possible past experience with neck pain and create an individual treatment plan based on your symptoms and needs!

Treatment can vary greatly and usually entails a combination of hands on techniques to decrease sensitivity of the neck joints and muscles, such as Maitland, mobilization with movement, nerve gliding techniques.

Exercises are also a key component of rehab, to improve the range of motion and strength.

Every patient and every story is different, so it is important to evaluate your specific situation to understand what the contributing factors might be!

If you are experiencing neck pain and you have questions, give us a call at (212) 353-8693!

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