How can I get untrap a trapped nerve and stop it getting trapped again?
January 27, 2011 1:45 PM   Subscribe

So googling my symptoms tells me that I have a trapped / pinched nerve in my neck. Ouch! I know, YANM doctor / chiropractor / physio / osteopath, but I'm hoping you can give me some advice anyway...

I woke up with neck pain 3 days ago, it radiated down to the top and back of my shoulder during the day, I also have (very slight) numbness in my arm. I have very limited neck movement due to the pain. Same symptoms each day. It's not getting worse but equally it's not getting better.

I've had this happen on a few occasions in the last couple of years, but not nearly as painful, and it didn't last as long. I got a memory foam pillow a year ago as a result, which I love - this is the first time I've experienced the problem since.

Most of my working day is spent working at a computer. Our office started hotdesking about 4 months ago, and I've not been particularly good at adjusting my chair each day. I drive a fair bit for work as well, which I'm guessing also doesn't help.

- in the short term, what can I do to reduce the pain and allow me to get on with my life? I'm taking ibuprofen, and using biofreeze (like Deep Heat but smells vaguely minty so my co-workers still talk to me)
- what kind of practitioner should I be seeing? GP? Physio? Osteopath? Chiropractor? Massage therapist? Or is it likely to just go away by itself (soon)?
- what (if anything) can I do long term to stop this happening again?

Not sure if this is relevant, but in case it is: In the last year, I've been seeing an osteopath for back problems, and he's been great, and identified and worked on a few issues in my lower / middle back. I now just see him every few months for maintenance sessions. But he's not identified any neck related problems. I also grind my teeth when I sleep and got a night guard about 6 months ago which has really helped with that.

Thank you!
posted by finding.perdita to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Short-short term- you want a hot pad or pack to put on your neck and shoulders. Also see if you can move your keyboard or monitor a bit, and find something different, perhaps more comfy.

Learn to take breaks and stretch things.

Next: A massage therapist should be a good bet. Let them know about your TMJ issues, since shoulder/neck/TMJ tends to form a triangle of problems together.

Longer term: Ergonomics + stress reduction. Learn some exercises for back/neck to help strengthen the muscles.
posted by yeloson at 2:08 PM on January 27, 2011

Given that the numbness may indicate some nerve implications, I would see someone. With nerve issues I would tend towards an MD, but a chiropractor may be able to deal with it.
posted by rtimmel at 2:12 PM on January 27, 2011

Neck manipulations and chiro can be dicey and potentially dangerous. I'd probably talk to your GP and, if they feel it's necessary, they may have a neurologist take a look too.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:22 PM on January 27, 2011

My own experience with a pinched nerve with similar-sounding symptoms:
- chiropractor made it worse
- massage therapy helped considerably with temporary relief
- physical therapy (and doing my prescribed exercises) got to the source of the problem and resolved it, and made me feel much better in the process. (e.g. greatly improved circulation)

Heat/ice didn't really help me much. I think before trying physio I got some muscle relaxant / pain killer things from my GP which were good, but I certainly wouldn't take them if I had to drive.

You mention your pillow. My physio said that sleeping on my stomach greatly exacerbated the problem. Sleeping on my side helped a lot.

Best wishes for a speedy lessening of your pain.
posted by valleys at 2:30 PM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

It could go away by itself but I would go see a chiropractor for a x-ray and adjustment. Follow this with some regular exercises that will work out the neck and back.
posted by bravowhiskey at 2:38 PM on January 27, 2011

I am not a doctor, and this is not medical advice--just my personal experience. I woke up last Saturday with horrible neck/back pain (first thing I did? Searched AskMe for past questions!).

I worked on my back for a long while (say, 5 hours) with a heating pad and took ibuprofin and soaked in a long shower. By that time, my muscles had loosened up enough for me to realize that my neck pain was being caused by some spasming muscles between my left shoulder blade and my spine. I worked on loosening those muscles with one of these Happy Massagers (SFW!).

I sort of pummeled that muscle into submission. It loosened up and felt pretty normal later that day. The next day and on, it felt exponentially better.

I am not recommending this to you, but it worked for me less than a week ago.

Go talk to your doctor!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:40 PM on January 27, 2011

Best answer: See a doctor.

That said, I've often found that walking is good for upper back and neck pain. I've also found that such pains tend to recur. That is, they're related to lifestyle (workstyle) and to the fact that we're all getting older. Certain stresses that the body could once handle it no longer can; not without some help.

To make a potentially long answer short, my long term battle with such pains didn't really turn a positive corner until I committed myself to regular exercise (INCLUDING STRETCHING), and to seeking out physio-therapy as I felt problems coming on, not waiting for them to get acute.

Good luck.
posted by philip-random at 2:48 PM on January 27, 2011

Saved my life: Treat Your Own Neck. The reviews do not kid. The excercises in the book will do wonders to help your posture during the day, but at least for me bouts of neck-going-out coincide with stress.. add in some yoga or other relaxing excersise, something to help dissipate that tension before it builds up so much. In the meantime, ibuprofen and ice- snuggle up to some frozen peas.

Do see a doctor, at least to be sure it's nothing weird.. they'll probably just give you ibuprofen and ice anyways but you never know.
posted by Erasmouse at 3:30 PM on January 27, 2011

Numbness ==> see a doc, ideally a neuro guy.
posted by Kevin S at 3:35 PM on January 27, 2011

After you see your doctor...

I've had this for twenty years. What I have done:

Went to a Rolfer. He didn't touch me but just said I need to do dog and cat yoga position. That really helps. Only problem is when I am in pain I hate to do it. Lately I have been dry swimming - I can't get to a pool but I do the arm movements I usually do while swimming and that helps.

Recently, I was in pain because my upper back muscles were all tense from stress, pulling my neck to one side. Using a "shiatsu" massager on my back muscles (not my neck) really helped.

I can't explain this but eating tomatoes or cottage cheese inflames my joints which makes it worse. Consider food sensitivities.

Taking fish oil capsules helps. (lubricates joints?)

I use Ibuprofen but I am worried it is damaging my liver. Try to avoid it.

I moved my monitor up, on top of some books, when I figured out I was looking down at it and looking down made it worse. Moving the monitor helped a lot.

I sleep on a small hard pillow, it is a decorative sofa pillow. That works better for me than a soft mushy pillow.

Warmth helps if the reason for the pain is that your muscles are tight. Ice will ease the pain but be sure you don't get frostbite.

Hanging your head off the side of your bed might bring temporary relief. I have a foam neck collar that I use if I have to use the computer and I am in pain. I've never tried the over the door neck contraptions but you can easily buy one at the drugstore.

I used to be a teeth clencher, have solved that habit but it does not seem to help the neck pain.

You don't say if you are male or female. I'm a girl and I recently figured out that hormone changes affect my pinched nerve. You sound like yours is all from too much computer work. But if you are a girl you may want to chart your symptoms so you can understand them better. (That's how I figured out my connection.) Although I have no idea what to do with that knowledge.
posted by cda at 4:00 PM on January 27, 2011

Best answer: How To Fix Neck Pain
Upper Back Pain, Shoulder Pain, and Tightness

^ A thoroughly effective summary of the postural problems that lead to neck pain, and some of the things you can do to fix it. Always bear in mind that there is no quick, magic bullet fix for pain brought about by postural misalignments; the best you can do is temporarily alleviate the screaming warning that your skeleton is sending you. Fixing the problem requires a change in your body and the ways in which you use it.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 4:34 PM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

I had similar symptoms a few months ago, and no amount of heat, ice, or OTC medications helped. Finally went to the doctor, got some flexaril, took it around the clock for a few days. Then started the neck stretches advised by the doc. I was able to go back to work a few days later with minimal pain, but it took another month of stretching to get full range of motion back. For me, I believe the muscle relaxers were key.
posted by missanissa at 6:46 PM on January 27, 2011

I was in the same boat as you a few months ago and went to see an Orthopedist who in turned put me to physical therapy for adjustments. Basically what he did was the same stuff you get at the chiropractor but much more slowly. He also got me doing some exercises to strengthen my neck and shoulders. I learned that I have been holding my head too far forward mainly due to looking at a computer screen and have been trying to learn not to do that. It took about 8 weeks but I am much better now.
posted by trishthedish at 7:04 PM on January 27, 2011

A pain management doc can also be helpful with a pinched nerve. Definitely not a treatment that stands on its own, but a pain management doc can help deal with the pain while you're in physiotherapy (etc) and trying to get the root cause straightened out.
posted by galadriel at 7:12 PM on January 27, 2011

Sometimes lying on your back with your head hanging off the edge of the bed and thus the weight of your head stretching your neck can help.

But, whenever I've gotten a pinched nerve as bad as what you've described, the only thing that eventually worked was a couple days on muscle relaxers lying flat on my back in bed with a rolled towel supporting my neck. Then at some point I would turn my head and C-R-R-R-R-ACK! everything would pop back into place and the pain would begin to fade.

My understanding is that the muscle relaxers help because your muscles stiffen around the pinched nerve and hold whatever is pinching it in place. You need your muscles to relax before any sort of adjustment (either by yourself, or with the aid of an osteopath or chiropractor) can do you much good. Trying to forcibly adjust your neck while your muscles are still stiff runs the risk of adding a muscle injury to your pinched nerve problems!

If you don't have access to prescription muscle relaxers, some alternatives I've found helpful include alcohol (especially beer, it seems), warm baths, and massage.

posted by Jacqueline at 11:48 PM on January 27, 2011

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