What is a trapped nerve?
The term ‘Trapped Nerve’ is another umbrella term that incorporates many different possible causes, this post is here to briefly explain some of them.
A Trapped nerve essentially means anything that irritates a nerve, it is often associated with shooting pain, local dull pain, tingling, numbness or pins and needles radiating away from the region where the nerve is “trapped”.
Disc bulges can push on to the nerve as it exits the spinal cord, this can occur at the neck region (associated most commonly with symptoms in to the shoulder and arm). However, what affects the nerve more at this region is the swelling around the region of the disc bulge which decreases the space around the nerve, squeezing it, and irritates it with inflammation.
There are many different areas around the body where a nerve can get trapped due to muscle tightness. These are rare when they occur and are more commonly found in athletes and in people with certain diseases. A couple of sports where this can occur are in volleyball, the Suprascapular nerve can become trapped or damaged causing weakness in external rotation of the arm by the Infraspinatus muscle (muscle found on the back of the shoulder blade). Another nerve that can get damaged is the long thoracic nerve, occasionally damaged when boxing after taking a shot to the ribs. Probably the most common of all these is ‘Piriformis syndrome‘ this is when a nerve in your buttock region becomes irritated or too tight and squeezes the Sciatic nerve causing ‘Sciatica‘ type symptoms down the leg and in to the feet.
Bony (Osteophytic) impingement
This type of nerve trapping is due to old age, as the discs in your spine dehydrate with age, or with poor function, the vertebrae attempt to stabilise themselves by producing more bone and forming bridges between each vertebrae. These bridges of bone can clamp down on to the nerves as they exit the spine causing the symptoms mentioned above.
Tumors can impinge or damage nerves as the grow in size, however a nerve impingement is rarely due to this cause.
If damage occurs in a region of tissue around a nerve, the scar tissue that forms once it heals can restrict the movement around the nerve. If a nerve is too restricted it can cause poor function by that nerve and occasionally impinge upon it causing trapped nerve type symptoms.
Direct nerve damage
A nerve can itself get damaged and affect the sensation along its path. This can be due to a sports injury such as a rugby tackle or due to an injection directly in to the nerve. Nerve injuries due to sport can heal if they are simple and looked after correctly, however injecting the nerve can have very severe consequences.