Trapped Nerves

Trapped nerves most commonly occur in the neck or low back. They are caused by compression of the nerves as they exit the spinal column and can send symptoms down the arms or legs.

The good news

Although people can be suffering from a genuinely trapped nerve, more often than not what patients may think is a ‘trapped nerve’ turns out to be pain resulting from an acute muscle spasm or joint strain in the neck or low back which may also be referring pain into the arms or legs. See the sections on neck pain and back pain on the right for more information on these conditions.

How do I know if I have a trapped nerve?

There are varying degrees to which nerves can become trapped although all are likely to be fairly painful. In addition to pain felt at the sight of the nerve entrapment – either in the neck or low back – patients will also experience additional signs or symptoms into the arm or leg such as:

  • Shooting pain
  • Electric shock type pain
  • Deep throbbing pain
  • Pins and needles
  • Numbness or loss of sensation
  • Weakness

Causes of trapped nerves

Trapped nerves can be caused when one of the discs in the spine has become disrupted and impinges onto the nerves as they exit the spinal column. This is more common in the low back (see the section on ‘slipped discs’) but can also happen in the neck.

Trapped nerves can also be caused by damage to the nerves or nerve roots as a result of a traumatic event – for example when the nerve root is stretched in a rugby tackle injury where the neck is side-bent too far away from the shoulder causing damage to the nerves exiting the spine on that side. This is sometimes referred to as a ‘stinger’ injury.

Nerves can also be trapped in the shoulder, buttock or leg as they pass through muscles that have gone into spasm. This is generally a less serious situation however than a ‘stinger’ or a nerve trapped by a herniated disc.

How can osteopathy help

There are many degrees to which a nerve can become injured and trapped however in most cases, depending on the extent of the injury, these conditions respond well to osteopathic treatment.

Osteopaths will use a combination of gentle articulation, massage and mobilisation techniques to reduce pain, facilitate healing and restore the range of movement to the area.

Herniated (‘slipped’) spinal discs often resolve well once the body has dealt with and healed the damaged area and the nerve roots are also generally able to heal over time.