Physiotherapy for a Trapped Nerve

As trapped nerves are so debilitating, we coined the phrase “getting on my nerves” to describe annoying things. Fortunately, trapped nerves settle down and go away, but they sometimes need a push with physiotherapy to send them on their way.

A trapped nerve is a nerve that is pinched, irritated or otherwise constricted by inflamed tissues surrounding it. Pressure around a nerve disrupts the nerve’s ability to function properly, leading to a range of uncomfortable symptoms. The most obvious is a lack of mobility and severe pain, which can really impact your ability to do the things you love.

You’ll want to limit overuse of the affected nerve for a few weeks by modifying your activities. The biggest frustration comes when that trapped nerve impacts your comfort at rest, when sitting down or lying in bed; and it’s time to contact a physiotherapist if it keeps you awake and gets you down.

physiotherapy for a trapped nerve

When Trapped Nerves Need a Hand

Trapped nerves can be so painful that moving around feels physically impossible, let alone doing some physiotherapy sessions. It isn’t a surprise when muscles, tendons, or soft tissues are pinching the nerve. That nerve should have lots of space to move and glide, but when it is irritated or compressed there is no wriggle room.

Most trapped nerves ease down of their own accord when the surrounding tissues settle down. When you gain some movement back, physiotherapy will help restore a normal range of motion over several weeks.

The correct physiotherapy for trapped nerves depends on where in the body the problem lies. Manipulation and mobilisation are the two most important treatments to give trapped nerves a hand and restore mobility.

What Causes a Trapped Nerve?

Injury or trauma from a fall, a collision or a sudden twisting motion can cause swelling/inflammation that presses on a nerve. They can also be inflamed / compressed or irritated with car accidents, sporting injuries or with bad form when lifting things.

Repetitive strain from repeated movements can inflame the tissues around a nerve over time, something that builders and plasterers know all too well with pinched nerves in the shoulders and back.

Poor posture such as slouching or craning your neck for prolonged periods can compress nerves, especially in the spine and lower back. This affects people working at computers all day and those driving for long periods of time.

Anatomical abnormalities like herniated discs, bone spurs, and other structural issues can also influence nerve space and can make you more susceptible to trapped nerves. Sadly, this increases the risk of them reoccurring.

Pregnancy creates shifts in posture and water retention that can compress nerves, and the risks increase over the pregnancy.

What Does a Trapped Nerve Feel Like?

You’ll usually have a dull ache in the region and a sharp sensation along the path of the affected nerve when you move a certain way.

A pins-and-needles feeling, tingling or numb sensation in the area the nerve supplies is common in trapped nerves of the legs and feet but less so in the back.

Difficulty with movements controlled by the compressed nerve, like grip strength or foot drop, is typical in the early stages of nerve pinching but can settle down relatively quickly in most cases with adequate immobilisation and rest.

Altered reflexes, including changes in normal reflex responses during physical exams are normal. Your mind might know what to do, but your body won’t play ball; this is a defence mechanism your body uses to protect itself.

How is a Trapped Nerve Diagnosed?

You’ll probably have a clue you have a trapped nerve from the symptoms mentioned above, and a doctor or physiotherapist can confirm it by feeling for areas of tenderness or swelling along the nerve path in addition to performing a full neurological examination.

Assessing the range of motion and flexibility and noting positions that produce painful symptoms helps us determine which nerve is affected. We might also use grip strength and weight tests to find a weakness in muscles innervated by the compressed nerve. Again, these tests help us locate the pinched nerve.

Evaluating skin sensitivity to detect numbness or altered sensation is also crucial when there’s a reported loss of feeling in the surrounding area.

In cases of a suspected reoccurring trapped nerve, we refer to your medical history and re-test to determine if it’s the same as previously.

What Physiotherapy Can Do for a Trapped Nerve

Trapped nerves can prevent you from sitting down at your desk and walking around, so it’s no exaggeration to say they can significantly impact your everyday life. Rest and immobilisation are the first steps to recovery, and when you get some range of motion back, you need to get moving to reduce inflammation and speed up recovery.

Manual Therapy

Hands-on techniques like joint mobilisations and soft tissue massage can relieve pressure on the nerve. Mobilising stiff spinal segments or stretching tight muscles takes tension off irritated nerves. Trigger point release eases muscle spasms.

Positioning and Ergonomics

Your physiotherapist will teach you positions that reduce nerve compression. Postural adjustments, like chin tucks for cervical radiculopathy or wrist braces for carpal tunnel, can make a big difference. Ergonomic modifications at work with a standing desk or optimising tool handle sizes let nerves glide freely.

Exercises and Stretches

Specific exercises relieve nerve tension and build supporting muscles. Nerve gliding drills help nerves slide past structures. Flexibility work in compressed areas creates space for the nerve. Strengthening stabilises joints to prevent nerve impingement. Your physiotherapist will show you a home exercise program to continue progress between sessions.

Pain Relief Modalities

Therapeutic modalities can provide relief during healing. Heat packs relax tight muscles that can be compressing nerves. Ice can control swelling that irritates the nerves. Ultrasound can warm deep tissues to aid circulation. Short-term pain control keeps you comfortable, while manual therapy and exercise address the root cause. Doctors can also prescribe neuropathic pain medication, which is aimed to target nerve pain.

Activity Modification

Your physiotherapist will analyse daily activities contributing to nerve compression and suggest modifications. Limiting time spent in provoking postures, taking frequent breaks, and adjusting workout postures and correcting form allows inflamed nerves to calm down. Temporarily avoiding aggravating factors can help to prevent repeated irritation whilst the nerve recovers.

Patient Education

Understanding your condition helps you become an active participant in recovery. Your physiotherapist will teach you about trapped nerve causes, symptoms, and prognosis. You’ll learn warning signs of flare-ups and helpful coping strategies. Knowing proper body mechanics empowers you to prevent future episodes. Patient education fosters lasting self-management.

How Long Does It Take For A Nerve That Is Pinched To Heal?

Recovery time for a trapped nerve depends on several factors:

Be patient with the recovery process. Nerves regenerate slowly. Proper treatment sets the stage for nerves to heal at their own pace.

Steadily increasing function without overstressing the nerve will give the best long-term result. Your physiotherapist will guide you safely back to full activity, so lean on them for advice and motivation during your recovery.

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