A peripheral nerve is like a fiber-optic cable, with many fibers encased in an outer sheath. You can think of each individual fiber as a microscopic garden hose.
The green part of the hose is a fine membrane where a static electrical charge can travel to or from the brain.The inside of the hose transports fluid from the nerve cell body that helps nourish and replenish the ever-changing components of the green part, or membrane.
If the nerve is pinched, the flow up and down the inside of the hose is reduced or blocked, meaning nutrients stop flowing. Eventually, the membrane starts to lose its healthy ability to transmit tiny electrical charges and the nerve fiber may eventually die. When enough fibers stop working, a muscle may not contract and skin may feel numb.
A nerve can be pinched as it leaves the spine by a herniated disc or bone spurs that form from spinal arthritis. Another common place for pinched nerves is the carpal tunnel. This is a bottleneck area, through which all the finger flexor tendons and the median nerve must pass to the hand.
Regardless of where the nerve is pinched, in the back, neck or carpal tunnel, the patient will often feel similar symptoms of numbness in the hand. Because the brain does not know the difference between the beginning, middle, or end of a nerve, it only knows that it does not receive signals from the hand- at this point the numbness begins.
A pinched nerve in the low back usually is perceived as radiating down the leg. Here again, the symptoms the person experiences seem to be traveling into the leg along the usual path. This is the basis of referred pain.
Muscle spasm in the back commonly accompanies pinched nerves and can be quite painful. Sometimes, nerves can be pinched and the only symptoms may be numbness and weakness in the arm or leg without pain. Other symptoms include tingling, burning, electric, and a hot/cold sensation.
If you think you woke up with a pinched nerve—or if you seem to have developed that pain over the course of the day—you do have some self-care options. The pain may be coming from a muscle spasm or strain that’s putting pressure on the nerve, so you can try relaxing your muscles.
Try, for example:
If you have persistent signs and symptoms that might be due to a Pinched Nerve that interfere with your normal activities including sleep, call your doctor’s office to schedule an appointment with Dr. Mir.