Insert "pain in the neck" joke here.
January 12, 2009 12:30 AM   Subscribe

Did I pinch a nerve? If so, who best to go to?

Over Thanksgiving we stayed with my wife's folks in a lavish, over-dressed bed. I got rid of as many pillows as I could, but still ended up yanking a mean knot into my neck. I figured it was no problem and would work itself out; instead, it's weeks later, the pain is intense at night and radiates into my hands and head, and shows no signs of ceasing. Did I pinch a nerve, or worse?

My wife says I should have a message, and putting an extreme amount of pressure on my shoulder does seem to help somehow; but maybe I need acupuncture, or to see a plain old doctor. Help me focus my "wellness efforts", as my HMO might say! Thanks...
posted by littlerobothead to Health & Fitness (11 answers total)
Best answer: I hate those overstuffed "doll beds" and have suffered from this myself, with similarly long term results. My shoulder blade got shattered in the war and didn't heal exactly right, so my muscles get easily out of order around my neck. When this happens, here's what I do:

1) Got to a chiropractor and get a massage and a little readjustment.
2) Immediately go home and take about a two-hour hot bath.
3) Take some muscle relaxants while I'm in the bath and keep myself "relaxed" well into bedtime.
4) Sleep flat on my back or with minimal pillow support.
5) Wake up and take another hot bath. Pop another muscle relaxant.

This seems to "reset" my muscles, then I ditch the muscle relaxants and life is fine okay. I have a nice bath, which helps a lot . . . a jacuzzi or whirlpool is really great. The trick is to keep the muscle "loose" long enough for them to float back into the right "way."

It's not too scientific I guess, but my back can be messed up for weeks and when I follow those steps it always works out.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:18 AM on January 12, 2009

yup.. codeine is what you want. I had a bad neck/shoulder over New Years. With notihng open over the silly season I just had to take painkillers: paracetemol and ibuprofen, but to no avail.

After a week, the pain was at its worst. I took codeine (a muscle relaxant) and 24 hours later it was gone. It was like night and day.

The moral of the story: not all painkillers are created equal. Some actually treat the problem rather than the symptoms.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 1:57 AM on January 12, 2009

I had a knot in my back that was almost this bad. It wouldn't go away until I had a friend put tons of pressure (full bodyweight) into the area with her elbow while I was lying down. The pain was so bad, I started tearing up. But immediately afterwards, the knot was gone.

If you pinched a nerve, it doesn't sound like any sort of pinched nerve that I've had. The few times I've done it, it's involved numbness and loss of sensation/mobility.
posted by strangecargo at 2:08 AM on January 12, 2009

No. No acupuncture. That's not medicine, that's quackery. Maybe if you want a placebo, but otherwise, no.

Also, I would go to your GP, let them know of the situation, and ask them what to do. Self-treatment, unless it's a really minor problem (which this is not), is not a good idea. From the pain you're experiencing, if it's radiating to your hand and your head from your shoulder, it sounds indeed as if you've maybe got a nerve problem (disclaimer: I'm not an MD, I'm an undergraduate neuroscience student who's headed to grad school to get a PhD in neuroscience, so I have absolutely no business making formal diagnoses), so I suggest you see your doctor.

HAY IKKYU2! GET YOUR BUTT IN HERE (ikkyu2 is MeFi's resident neurologist.)
posted by kldickson at 5:27 AM on January 12, 2009

Semi-seconding kldickson's advice, also as a bio/neuroscience grad student (for whatever that's worth). HMO is the magic word, and I'd see my primary care physician first to 1) rule out anything serious, 2) get a referral if necessary to a specialist/acupuncturist/chiropractor if they think it will help, 3) get help directly - potentially in the form of muscle relaxants, pain medication or better yet, advice on how to make the pain stop. Your HMO may cover complementary care coverage, but they will definitely cover your primary care physician, and he or she should be your first stop.

Acupuncture is effective for some things, though some articles suggest that it works on connective tissue rather than nerves. It's just not a silver bullet and it usually isn't covered by insurance, so I would try cheaper modalities first.

If pressure makes it feel better it might just be a muscle spasm. You could try placing a warm water soaked washcloth on the area and taking a few ibuprofen and seeing if that helps. Also, a stretch which helps me when I have neck/back tension is the Wii Fit Half-Moon Pose.
posted by abirae at 5:59 AM on January 12, 2009

Best answer: Until you know for sure that it's not a pinched nerve - do not get a massage! You may have a slightly herniated cervical disc that got just the right "nudge" from an uncomfortable night and is now irritating a nerve. A resulting muscle inflammation or knot is not uncommon with this situation. If your pain is severe and radiating down the arm- that makes me think a nerve is involved. See your physician! you may need an MRI to diagnose what's happening...

Until you can see a doc- use warm compresses/ heating pads...
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 6:25 AM on January 12, 2009

Do. Not. Go. See. a chiropractor.

Go see an orthopedist, neurologist or primary care physician as your insurance situation warrants. "Manipulation" of your neck when you might have a pinched nerve or slightly slipped disk can result in some rather nasty side effects, to include paralysis.
posted by squorch at 8:12 AM on January 12, 2009

I spent one night in my nephew's weird little bed and I couldn't turn my head around to drive in reverse for a year. It just eventually went away.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:52 AM on January 12, 2009

Sounds like a herniated disc to me, to. Hie thee to thine local doctor of physic. Don't have it massaged or manipulated.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:55 AM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Find somebody good. Go to them. They might be a chiropractor or D.O. or massage person. I would call the local natural food store, or vegetarian restaurant and ask who they recommend. Actually, call them both and see if any single name comes up more than once. Ask friends and associates. The idea is not to find a particular specialty, but a particular person.
posted by Joe13 at 3:47 PM on January 12, 2009

Go to an MD. Get a prescription for physical therapy. Go here and see if you have a PT in your area who is an orthopedic certified specialist -- they're the ones with OCS after their names. They have extensive education in manually treating these matters.

Acupuncture is not quackery, but I do not think it is appropriate in this case.
posted by jennyjenny at 5:55 PM on January 12, 2009

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