Pinched nerves cause signs and symptoms that can significantly impact your daily tasks. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 20 million people have some type of nerve damage in their arms or legs. (ref 4, pg 1) Nerves can also be pinched as they come out of your spine. According to a study published in 2015 by "Medicine," 85 people out of every 100,000 have pinched nerves in the neck that cause symptoms into the arm. (ref 6, pg 2) These conditions can cause pain, tingling, numbness, decreased reflexes and weakness.
Pain is the most common symptom associated with pinched nerves. According to a research review performed by "North American Spine Society," 99 percent of people with a pinched nerve in the neck complained of arm pain. (ref 1, pg 12) Nerve pain is often worse at night, making it difficult to sleep. (ref 4, pg 5) Pinched nerves can also make your skin more sensitive to the touch, further increasing your pain. (same ref) Pinched nerves in the neck can cause pain in the neck, shoulder blade, arm and hand. Less commonly, headaches and chest pain can occur. (ref 1, pg 12) Nerves that are pinched further down the arm will cause pain specifically where that nerve is located.
Tingling and Numbness
Sensory nerves give you the ability to feel things. When sensory nerves are pinched, your sense of touch can be disrupted. According to "North American Spine Society," 85 percent of people with a pinched nerve in the neck complained of decreased sensation. (ref 1, pg 12) Tingling can occur along the nerve that is pinched in your neck or arm, causing a sensation like the area is "falling asleep." Tingling may be constant or come and go. Sensory nerve damage can also cause numbness. This can cause you to feel like you are wearing gloves when you touch something with your affected hand. You might have difficulty determining whether an object is sharp or dull, or whether water is hot or cold. As a result, decreased sensation can lead to injury.
If you've ever had a check-up, chances are you've had your reflexes checked. According to "North American Spine Society," over 70 percent of people with a pinched nerve in the neck had decreased response in their arm reflexes. (ref 1, pg 12) When a particular tendon in your arm is tapped with a reflex hammer, a message is sent to your spinal cord causing the muscle to contract. Depending on the reflex tested, this will normally cause a quick movement in your elbow or wrist. When nerves are pinched in the neck, these reflexes can decrease. Nerves that are pinched further down your arm will not affect your reflexes.
Motor nerves power your muscles. A pinched motor nerve can cause weakness in your arm muscles. According to "North American Spine Society," 68 percent of people with a pinched nerve in the neck had weakness in muscles powered by the affected nerve. (ref 1, pg 12) Weakness can also occur when nerves are pinched in the arm. You might notice that you are dropping things or have difficulty with tasks such as opening a jar. Motor nerve damage can also cause muscle twitching or painful muscle cramps. (ref 4, pg 5) Your muscle might shrink in size. In severe cases, the muscle can become paralyzed.
Precautions and Warnings
See your doctor if you have signs or symptoms of a pinched nerve. Many conditions that cause pinched nerves can be successfully treated with antiinflammatory or prescription medications, exercises and physical therapy. (ref 5, pg 4) If conservative treatment for a pinched nerve is unsuccessful, surgery might be required.
- North American Spine Society: Evidence-Based Clinical Guidelines for Multidisciplinary Spine Care
- American Family Physician: Cervical Radiculopathy: Nonoperative Management of Neck Pain and Radicular Symptoms
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: National Guideline Clearinghouse: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: Peripheral Neuropathy
- American Academy of Neurology: Neck and Back Pain
- Medicine: Dimensions Underlying Measures of Disability, Personal Factors, and Health Status in Cervical Radiculopathy