When something is “getting on your nerves”…

As chiropractors, a common phrase we hear in the office is that someone believes they have “pinched a nerve”. Usually, they believe this because when they move in a certain direction they feel a pinching sensation in a localized area and that leads to pain. The patient usually experiences a loss in their range of motion and cannot function at 100% in their daily life. What that person has described is most likely not a pinched nerve by the true definition. A pinched nerve typically has very different symptoms than the one described. The condition that was described above is typically inflammation in the spinal joints that leads to a loss of movement. Chiropractic adjustments can help restore the normal movement for that joint and promote resolution of the inflammation.
In order to have a truly “pinched nerve”, the patient would be suffering from an impingement of the nerve. That means that much like stepping on a water hose and preventing the water from reaching the opening; your nerve flow has been interrupted. The symptoms that come with this are typically numbness/tingling, radiating pain and/or weakness of either the arm or leg muscles. If the nerve is getting pinched in your neck, that will typically affect the arm and if the nerve is in your low back, that will typically affect your legs. The nerve can be impinged by a variety of causes. Several common causes are disc herniation, arthritis that has narrowed the opening for the nerve, or tight muscles that affect the nerve. Each of these causes will present differently and the treatment may vary. The severity of the impingement will also change what the patient experiences. The order of progression typically goes from first a vague numbness or tingling sensation that will eventually progress to more of a true painful feeling. The last step in the progression is typically to have loss of strength. Depending on where the nerve is getting impinged and at what level in the spine, different areas will go numb and different muscles will lose their strength.
Each of these differences will help the chiropractor decide what form of treatment is best and where to apply the treatment. It may be determined that a lighter force adjustment with more traction applied will help in order to take the pressure off of a herniated disc or that a more traditional manual adjustment will be best to reintroduce proper movement and adaptability to the joint, allowing it to move freely and take the pressure off of the nerve. If it is tight muscles that are impinging on the nerve, which may happen, for example, in the elbow, frequently soft tissue techniques (varying from massage type of pressure to instrument assisted techniques) work well to help loosen up the muscle and eliminate scar tissue that may be causing problems. Soft tissue techniques often work well in the wrist as well for issues such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Hopefully this helps you learn a little more on what exactly a “pinched nerve” is and how chiropractors can help.