Pinched Nerve Neck Pain Relief

Pinched Nerve Neck Pain Relief
Photo by: Flickr/Racchio

It is Winter time in South Africa so it is very cold in Johannesburg. As I see this time of year come in at the Chiropractic clinic we seem to have had many patients coming in because they woke up in the morning and got a sudden neck pain. I like to call it my “cricked neck season”. I joke wit patients GP’s get a cold and flu season I get the stuck neck season.

The first thing everyone usually says is: I think have pinched a nerve, please help me“. Whilst they are telling me their story they normally are struggling to look at up me with their neck stuck in a forward and off to the side position (a.k.a torticollis or wry neck).

This scenario I have just described is a classic story many other chiropractors will tell you that they have also seen and heard. Especially when people come in looking for neck pain relief after waking up with a wry neck.

So today I thought I would briefly go through the symptoms of a pinched nerve in the neck, and the two most common causes of a pinched nerve in the neck that I see at the Chiropractic clinic. At the end I have included what you can do starting now by yourself in order to get some pain relief from that sore neck.

The Symptoms

Do you think that you have a trapped a nerve in your neck? Now your wondering what are some of the typical and common symptoms of a nerve entrapment?

Just so you understand, by definition a symptom is what you personally can feel or see. This means a symptom is usually how you would explain what your feeling to your doctor of Chiropractic or medical doctor.

Remember those patients that I mentioned in the beginning, with a severe neck pain or a wry neck position walking into the chiropractors’ office? Well this is what I would usually hear them say as they describe to me their pain in their neck:

  1. I just woke up and when getting out of bed, or in the shower, I felt my neck twinge then & within a few hours it was really sore and now my neck is stuck.
  2. My pain is mainly next to my shoulder blade, on top of my shoulder and into the back of my arm with pins and needles in my finger tips.
  3. The pain in my arm pain feels worse than my neck.
  4. If I raise my arm above my head I get some relief of the shoulder blade & arm pain.
  5. Painkillers and anti-inflammatories are not helping to relieve my neck or arm pain.
  6. The pain feels like a deep throbbing ache into my outer arm.
  7. This is the worst neck pain I have ever had.
  8. Pain can be worst in the early morning hours between 1-3am and it wakes me up from my sleep.
  9. I just cannot find a comfortable position to get some neck pain relief.
  10. Driving  the car and changing the gears was really sore and I cannot turn to see the blind spots.

Do any of these statements sound familiar to you? These are only just some of the ways patients might explain to me their neck pain.

The question of “what does a pinched nerve pain feel like?” is probably best described as a deep, throbbing, in the bone, worst pain you have ever felt.

It is important to know that you do get different sources of pain. Those with a true pinched or trapped nerve you will be experiencing what is called neurogenic pain. Neurogenic pain is pathologically different from inflammatory pain, which is the type of pain you get when you strain a muscle in sport.

The Causes

As I said earlier, I would tell you what the two most common causes I see resulting in pinched nerve in the neck or shoulder.

But first, to help you better understand your neck I would suggest you watch the cervical spine anatomy video below. I think the video below covers the easy to understand basics of what your cervical (neck) spine looks like inside.

The anatomy seen includes: the cervical disc, spinal nerve, dorsal root ganglion, cervical neck joints, neck muscles and ligaments.

Anatomy of The Neck

Cause Number One: the Cervical Spinal Disc

Problems can happen to a cervical spinal disc that end up causing a pinched nerve root. Usually the cause is a disc that is prolapsing or herniating.

Important to understand that only an already degenerating,unhealthy disc can cause the morning sudden, non-traumatic, pain in the neck pain. This is a very important point to remember for me. This is because if you might have been told that you have a “slipped disc”. In order to properly diagnose a “slipped disc” in your neck you would need to go for an MRI scan.

It is a common finding on neck MRI scans to see a slightly bulging, degenerating, or dehydrated cervical disc. Especially at the C5-6-7 inter-vertebral levels. Micro-traumas over time can cause a tear in the outer layer of the disc could with no apparent reason to you, but still, you end up with a pinched or trapped nerve pain.

Signs of degeneration in the spinal joints (a.k.a facet, uncinate) are another common imaging finding. It is usually called spondylosis on a neck x-ray report. These osteo-arthritic changes create bony spurs (a.k.a osteophytes) that can irritate a spinal nerve root.

A true nerve root entrapment is also called a radiculopathy. The most common being diagnoses of a C7C5 or C6 radiculopathy.

Cause Number Two: Synovial Meniscoid Entrapment

Your probably thinking “What is a synovial meniscoid?”. It is also known as an acute locked neck.

A synovial meniscoid is a naturally found structure in all of the spinal joints of the neck. It is thought the synovial meniscoid tissue can sometimes get stuck and damaged between the two articular surfaces of the cervical facet joints.

I would commonly see a trapped synovial meniscoid episode in a patient with a more local, base of the neck pain, and without major signs of nerve entrapment distress down the arm to the fingers.

Trapped synovial meniscoid pain is typically one-sided and over the cervico-thoracic (CT) junction area of your spine. The cervico-thoracic junction is where your neck meets your upper back. It is where the most prominent vertebrae sticks out at the neck.

Self-Treatment Options

This section is about what you can do to try help a pinched nerve in your neck or shoulder. First, if your chiropractor or doctor, tells you that you have a true pinched nerve in your neck or shoulder then they will advise what they could do for you.

Again, what do I mean by a true pinched nerve? A true pinched nerve is when the nerve coming out of your neck between the vertebrae is irritated either by a cervical disc lesion, like a herniation, or the inflammatory chemicals from an irritated cervical facet joint. So the pain is in the nerve not the muscle.

However, there are some things you can try do yourself whilst waiting or getting your appropriate treatment:

  1. Don’t avoid seeing a Chiropractor or Doctor.
    This is rule number one. This is because even though you can try do some home self-treatment you can have a situation of a nerve in your neck being trapped casuing a lose of function in that nerve. So not to scare you too much, but pain is just a warning sign.
    There are worse things that can happen from having a pinched nerve that you may not realise. This includes red flags like loss of muscle strengthbowel bladder changes (from a severely herniated disc), or infection or a tumor causing the nerve problems. So use a healthcare professional to first give you a diagnosis of what your neck or shoulder pain is, then decide what you want to do.
  2. Try the Bakody Sign Position.
    This is a position of nerve pain relief. Bakody Sign is a move relieve the pressure on the pinched nerve. The person would place the painful arm’s palm on top or behind their head so that the arm is raised above their shoulder.
  3. Avoid Prolonged Sitting.
    Unfortunately sitting in a chair for too long can make your head move forward on your neck. This forward movement and slumping may place more even more physical stress on the spinal joints and the nerve.
  4. Use a Cervical Neck Pillow.
    Chiropractors believe in good pillow support for the neck. A good pillow will lower the stress on your neck joints and spinal curve thus helping to lower the risk of any further nerve irritation. I personally am a fan of memory foam pillows. Memory foam pillows can come in many shapes & sizes with lots of different brands out there. However, at the end of the day, any good cervical neck pillow support from any type of pillow is what is important. The pillow is tool for you to help control the neck pain at night.
  5. Move your Neck in Pain Free Directions.
    Trying to immobilise and stop all neck movement completely can further aggravate the aches and pains. Try gently moving your neck in pain-free directions. Moving in pain-free range of motion will still allow the non-damaged joints and discs to stay healthy. It can be a fine balancing act between rest and neck movement.
  6. Ask your Doctor about Neurogenic Pain Medication versus Inflammatory Pain Medication.
    The pain in your neck, arm or shoulder is what you are most worried about solving . So chemically how can you control it with medication? The neck pain medication will depend if it is acute (new) or chronic (old) pain you have. Chronic pain can occur from a severe episode of acute pain. Taking appropriate pain medication can lower your risk of chronic pain. There are lots of different pain medications available for pinched nerves, inflamed muscles & swollen joints. It is important you speak to your medical doctor if the current pain medication you are using is not helping to lower your pinched nerve pain. For a pinched nerve you want neurogenic painkillers. Normal anti-inflammatories may not be enough.
  7. Cervical Traction at Home.
    Traction of your neck may also help the pain. I would advise caution if you are looking to use a home cervical traction apparatus for your neck pain. When performing cervical traction try use intermittent traction not long continual tractionLarge amounts of traction force is not needed for the neck.
    Your chiropractor, orthopaedic/neurosurgeon could advise you further on using a home cervical traction device. With neck traction sometimes it is best left to your healthcare provider to perform the cervical traction for your neck pain.
  8. Keep Hydrated.
    Most of us are dehydrated and having neck pain you don’t think of drinking water. You maybe using lots of pain relieving medications and not eating or sleeping properly with the pain. Then keeping properly hydrated can become an issue, that is why a hospital use intravenous (IV) saline drips to help normalise your body function.
    So try to remember to have consume water during. It helps to create a better situation for your body to heal itself.

The above neck pain relief self-help list is not meant to be comprehensive. So it should give you some idea what you could do to try help a pinched nerve pain in your neck or shoulder.

Photo Credit: racchio