Nerve Damage: My Experience
My Experience With Pinched Nerves
I have nerve damage caused by a long-term impinged nerve, more commonly known as a pinched nerve. Actually, I have a couple of pinched nerves. After a year or so of dealing with the pain and other pinched-nerve symptoms, I finally went to the doctor—several doctors, as it turned out.
After a few MRIs and nerve conduction tests, I learned that I had a pinched nerve in my neck and a pinched nerve in my back. The neurologist also told me that I had the worst case of carpal tunnel that he’d ever seen, and I have it in both hands. The nerve leading from my neck to my left hand and arm is being “double crushed.” In other words, the nerve is being impinged at both ends—from the pinched nerve in the neck and from the carpal tunnel syndrome. That arm tingles, burns, and sometimes feels like ants are crawling on it. The worst, however, is the itching, which is sometimes maddening. It’s a deep itch that I can’t get to. When it’s acting up, sometimes I claw the arm in my sleep and wake up bloodied.
What Is a Pinched Nerve?
What is a pinched nerve? Actually, it’s just what it sounds like. It’s the term used when a nerve has been impinged, or pinched. The pinching can be caused by any type of constriction or compression, including bulging discs, herniated discs, or bone spurs. Inflammation and swelling in tissues that surround a nerve can also compress the nerve. These tissues can include muscle tissues, connective tissues, or cartilage. In any case, the nerve or nerves are damaged in some way.
Oftentimes, more than one nerve is affected, as in carpal tunnel syndrome. With carpal tunnel syndrome, the pinched nerve or nerves can be caused by inflamed ligaments and tendons, along with enlarged bones.
Nerve damage might be temporary or permanent. If the cause is discovered soon enough, and if the pressure can be relieved, the nerve will usually be able to return to normal function. If the pressure or constriction isn’t removed, permanent nerve damage can occur.
Pinched nerve symptoms can be different for different people, and even with the same person, the symptoms can be different at different times. It also depends, of course, on which nerve or nerves are involved. The most common pinched nerve symptoms and symptoms of nerve damage are numbness, burning pain, weakness, and tingling. It might feel like the affected area has “fallen asleep.” Some people describe their symptoms of nerve damage as feeling like an electrical shock. And as I’ve already mentioned, some people experience deep, intense itching with nerve damage.
Nerve damage can result in peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral nerves emerge from the spinal cord and brain, connecting the central nervous system to body’s limbs and organs. These nerves might involve motor neurons or sensory neurons. When these nerves are damaged and aren’t functioning properly, the condition is called peripheral neuropathy. A single nerve might be affected, or the peripheral neuropathy can include groups of nerves. In some cases, the entire body can be affected.
Peripheral neuropathy can cause pain, weakness, lack of coordination, sweating, and muscle loss. Some people lose almost all feeling in an appendage. For example, my grandfather had peripheral neuropathy in his hands, and he once suffered a terrible burn because he didn’t know he was resting his hand on a hot stove burner.
Peripheral neuropathy can also cause lack of bladder control, difficulty swallowing, sexual problems, or difficulties with digestion. It all depends on which nerve or nerves are affected.
Causes of Peripheral Neuropathy
There are several causes of peripheral neuropathy. One of the most common is diabetes. Other causes of peripheral neuropathy are rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, shingles, kidney disease, liver disease, AIDS, Lyme disease, alcoholism, hepatitis C, Guillain-Barre syndrome, tumors, hypothyroidism, exposure to toxins, and vitamin deficiencies.
Nerve damage and pressure can also be causes of peripheral neuropathy. These can result from injuries or from anything that causes trauma to the nerves. This might be something as seemingly innocent as remaining a long period of time in an awkward position or repeating the same motion over and over.
Pinched Nerve in the Neck
My pinched nerve in the neck is in my cervical spine and was most likely caused by weightlifting and carrying around a heavy bust for several decades. I have bone growing where it shouldn’t be growing, and that bone is scraping the nerve as it exits my spine. Any type of repetitive motion involving my left arm or shoulder will trigger the symptoms. Tilting my head back or to the left side will also make my symptoms worse. Tucking my chin into my chest and tilting my head to the right will often help alleviate the symptoms. Of course, I can’t go through life in these positions all the time.
The symptoms are the same as those already described, with a few extras. Sometimes I get bad headaches that start at the back of my neck and radiate up to my head. At other times, my neck feels weak, as if it isn’t strong enough to hold up my head. The pinched nerve in my neck is on the left side of my cervical spine, so the pain and other symptoms affect my left shoulder and arm. Whenever I exert extra pressure, as in the case of vomiting or coughing, the pain is much worse. I sometimes feel as if a giant hand were squeezing me.
Pinched Nerve in Lower Back
A pinched nerve in the back can occur in any section of your spine – the cervical spine, the thoracic spine, the lumbar spine, or the sacral curve. The pinched nerve in my lower back is in my lumbar spine. I think it’s at L-3 and L-4. Anyway, it’s on my right side, so it affects my right leg, my right buttock, and the right side of my lower back.
My symptoms include shooting or throbbing pains, along with “pins and needles” tingling. Sometimes after walking for just short distances, my leg goes numb. This is usually most evident in my thigh, for some reason. And this is really strange: sometimes it feels exactly like droplets of water are dripping down my leg! Nerve damage can definitely cause some strange sensations.
Sciatic Nerve Damage
I experienced a pinched sciatic nerve when I was pregnant with my second child. My obstetrician told me that the baby’s head was pushing directly on my sciatic nerve, causing sciatica. Thankfully, the sciatica was temporary. As soon as the baby was born, the pain went away immediately.
Sciatic nerve damage is usually caused by a pinched sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve roots are located in the lower back and are connected to the buttocks, the back of the thigh, the back of the calf, the ankle, and the foot on the affected side. Sciatic nerve damage is often caused by herniated or bulging discs in the lower back. The misplaced disc presses on the nerve, causing a pinched sciatic nerve. This often results in shooting pains, numbness, and/or tingling.
Sciatic nerve damage can have other causes, as well. These include bone spurs, tumors, and spinal stenosis. And, as I’ve already mentioned, sciatica can be caused by pregnancy.
I wish I could tell you that there’s an easy, surefire pinched nerve treatment, but there isn’t. At least, I haven’t yet discovered one. There are a few things that might help, however, and provide you with some pinched nerve relief. Since I’ve answered the question about what is a pinched nerve, you understand more about the causes. Pinched nerve treatment usually focuses on the causes themselves. For example, if you have a pinched nerve in the lower back that’s causing problems, you need to “free up” some space for that particular nerve. Sometimes just changing positions can help. Sometimes I have to get into a V shape in my Lazy Boy. Sometimes lying down and elevating and bending my knees helps. In some cases, rest is all that’s needed. To open up space in my cervical spine, I use an over-the-door mechanism that stretches my neck.
Stretching might also prove pinched nerve relief for other parts of the body. I often get my husband to stretch my legs, one at the time, up and back as I lie on my back. This is painful when it’s done, but afterwards, it often helps. If the pinched nerve is causing painful muscle spasms, a prescription muscle relaxer sometimes helps. Injections of cortisone or other corticosteroids might help, too. I had high hopes for my first injection for pinched nerve treatment for the pinched nerve in my back, but I was really disappointed in the outcome. Getting the injection was no day at the beach, but I didn’t mind enduring it if it meant long-term relief. Unfortunately, the pinched nerve relief only lasted for about three weeks. Of course, those three weeks were wonderful, but I was expecting it to last longer. I guess I should feel lucky – the injections have no effect on some people.
Some people with pinched nerve pain use pain patches, especially lidocaine patches. You might also want to try creams that contain capsaicin. Some people find nerve pain relief by using moist heat or ice packs. Massage might be beneficial, also. If you haven’t tried using a TENS unit, I definitely suggest giving that a try. My TENS unit doesn’t always help with nerve pain, but when it does, it’s great. Occasionally, when nothing else works, I have to take a prescription narcotic pain reliever. I also take Cymbalta daily, which helps with the pain of nerve damage, especially with peripheral neuropathy.
If you can’t find any pinched nerve treatment that helps relieve your symptoms, you might consider surgery, if it’s an option. Several of my physicians have cautioned me that surgery should be used only as a last resort, however. My best friend had surgery for a pinched nerve in the neck, and it just made things worse. When my symptoms of nerve damage are screaming at me, I use just enough treatment to make the pain bearable. I know that I’ll never be completely pain free. It’s just something I’ve had to learn to live with. Of course, I could always take more pain pills and stay “zonked out” all the time, but I’d miss out on too much of life like that. Start off with the simplest and safest options, and if those don’t work, move to the next level of pinched nerve treatment.