Have you ever been told you have a trapped nerve and wondered what that actually means? How does a nerve become “trapped”? How can it be “released”?
This blog aims to answer those questions for you!
What is a trapped nerve?
The phrase “trapped nerve” is often used to describe pain or discomfort that is coming from the back and extending out to other areas such as shoulders, arms, hips and legs.
What it really means, is that somewhere along its path the nerve is being irritated by another structure within the body.
The nerves are most vulnerable at the points where they pass through tight spaces
Leaving the spine
Passing joints in the arms and legs
Passing through muscles
To start, we will focus this blog on the spine – specifically, the neck (cervical spine).
How nerves get “trapped”
The body is controlled by a complex network of nerves that transport information from the body to the brain, and instructions from the brain to the rest of the body (these messages travel at 170mph!)
As nerves leave the spine, they pass through a small space called the intervertebral foramen. This gap is surrounded by vertebral bones, ligaments and intervertebral discs. When these structures become damaged they can push on the nerve, causing it to send signals of pain or block signals of sensation to the brain.
There are two main causes of this in the neck:
As we age, the gap between our spinal joints gets smaller. This is because the disc between them becomes smaller and the joints become subject to wear and tear. As the gap gets smaller, it can begin to compress the nerve. During degeneration the body also builds small pieces of bone to keep the joints apart (these are called spurs), which can also begin to press on a nerve.
Sometimes, intervertebral discs can become damaged – causing them to bulge or protrude (see Emily’s blog to learn more). These bulges can also press on the nerve and cause discomfort.
What can be done?
Rest is often enough to help reduce inflammation in the area and reduce the irritation and pain coming from the nerve.
Manual therapies and exercises can also be used to help improve the quality of movement in the area, as well as help to strengthen the muscles supporting the neck to reduce possible damage in the future.