How Does a Pinched Nerve Feel?

Reviewed on 6/13/2022
Illustration showing pinched nerve pain in the spine
Pinched nerve symptoms may feel like pain, numbness, tingling, burning sensation, “pins and needles” sensation, and weakness.

A pinched nerve (radiculopathy) occurs when a nerve originating from the spinal cord becomes pinched or damaged from constriction, compression, or stretching.

Different parts of the body may be affected by a pinched nerve depending on which nerve or group of nerves is affected. 

A pinched nerve may feel like:

  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Burning sensation
  • “Pins and needles” sensation
  • Weakness

These sensations may be felt in the area where the nerve is pinched or compressed and/or radiating out from the injured area.

Pinched nerves in the neck (cervical radiculopathy) feels like these symptoms occur running down one or both arms. 
Lumbosacral radiculopathy (“sciatica”) causes these symptoms to occur in the buttocks or down the legs.

See a doctor if you have the above symptoms of a pinched nerve and:

  • Pain is constant
  • Pain grows progressively worse
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control

What Causes a Pinched Nerve?

Pinched nerves (radiculopathy) usually occur due to a problem with the back that causes a nerve to become pinched or damaged, such as:

  • Herniated discs
    • The discs between the vertebrae break open and bulge out, where they press on or irritate nearby nerves 
  • Bone spurs form on the vertebrae, which press on nearby nerves
  • Other medical conditions that injure the nerves near the spinal cord
  • Repetitive motions 
  • Nerve compression between tissues such as bone, ligaments, and tendons, which is a common cause of carpal tunnel syndrome

How Is a Pinched Nerve Diagnosed?

A pinched nerve (radiculopathy) is diagnosed based on a patient history of symptoms and a physical examination.

If a pinched nerve is suspected, tests may include: 

What Is the Treatment for a Pinched Nerve?

A pinched nerve may not need treatment, and sometimes a pinched nerve will go away on its own as the back and nerves heal. 

When needed, treatment to fix a pinched nerve may include:

  • Avoiding activities that worsen the pain 
  • Over-the-counter pain medications
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Prescription pain medications
    • Narcotics for severe pain
  • Injections to numb the back 
  • Injections to reduce swelling
    • Corticosteroids
  • Physical therapy to stretch and strengthen surrounding muscles
  • Weight loss if needed 
  • Wearing a splint or collar
  • Surgery to repair the problem
Reviewed on 6/13/2022
Image Source: iStock Images