This Is What Really Causes A Pinched Nerve

Pinched nerves are no fun. While not usually serious in the long run, they can be uncomfortable, painful, and even debilitating when they do occur. But what really causes a pinched nerve, and when it happens, what can you do about it?

A pinched nerve is actually just what it sounds like — a nerve that is pinched, or compressed, when too much pressure is put on it by the surrounding tissues. Symptoms can include sharp or dull pain, achiness, numbness or tingling, or even muscle weakness (via Cleveland Clinic).

A pinched nerve can occur in many places in the body, but most often happens in the neck or along the spine, where many nerves radiate out from the spinal column. The compressed nerve sends out warning signals to the brain that something is wrong, which results in the tingling, numbness, or pain that you feel. "We have nerve roots that leave the spinal column at every level, and they can become impinged and trapped," Dr. Zachary McCormick, a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician, told the University of Utah Health. "It's a very common source of pain."

Stretching and keeping good posture can help prevent pinched nerves

According to Mayo Clinic, pinched nerves are commonly caused by injury, stress from repetitive work (think carpal tunnel syndrome), or arthritis. Obesity and pregnancy are also risk factors, causing extra pressure to be placed on nerves.

Usually, pinched nerves will go away on their own with rest, time, and conservative treatments like applying ice and heat, and using over-the-counter pain medication. But if pain and discomfort continue after several days and don't seem to respond to home treatments, it's important to see a doctor. If allowed to continue too long, pinched nerves can result in permanent damage and chronic pain.

Thankfully, there are things we can do to prevent pinched nerves. Stretching, maintaining a healthy weight, and good posture help. Also, avoiding sitting or lying in one position or crossing your legs for long periods of time can help. Dr. Zachary McCormick told the University of Utah Health, "Good posture, smart lifting, and keeping a strong core all help reduce the chances of developing a pinched nerve."