Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and conduct a physical examination.

If your doctor suspects a pinched nerve, you may undergo some tests. These tests may include:

  • Nerve conduction study. This test measures electrical nerve impulses and functioning in your muscles and nerves through electrodes placed on your skin. The study measures the electrical impulses in your nerve signals when a small current passes through the nerve. Test results tell your doctor whether you have a damaged nerve.
  • Electromyography (EMG). During an EMG, your doctor inserts a needle electrode through your skin into various muscles. The test evaluates the electrical activity of your muscles when they contract and when they're at rest. Test results tell your doctor if there is damage to the nerves leading to the muscle.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This test uses a powerful magnetic field and radio waves to produce detailed views of your body in multiple planes. This test may be used if your doctor suspects you have nerve root compression.
  • High-resolution ultrasound. Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of structures within your body. It's helpful for diagnosing nerve compression syndromes, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

Treatment

The most frequently recommended treatment for pinched nerve is rest for the affected area. Your doctor will ask you to stop any activities that cause or aggravate the compression.

Depending on the location of the pinched nerve, you may need a splint or brace to immobilize the area. If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, your doctor may recommend wearing a splint during the day as well as at night because wrists flex and extend frequently during sleep.

Physical therapy

A physical therapist can teach you exercises that strengthen and stretch the muscles in the affected area to relieve pressure on the nerve. He or she may also recommend modifications to activities that aggravate the nerve.

Medications

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve), can help relieve pain.

Corticosteroid injections, given by mouth or by injection, may help minimize pain and inflammation.

Surgery

If the pinched nerve doesn't improve after several weeks to a few months with conservative treatments, your doctor may recommend surgery to take pressure off the nerve. The type of surgery varies depending on the location of the pinched nerve.

Surgery may entail removing bone spurs or a part of a herniated disk in the spine, for example, or severing the carpal ligament to allow more room for the nerve to pass through the wrist.

Preparing for your appointment

You're likely to first see your family doctor or a general practitioner. Because there's often a lot to discuss and time may be limited, it's a good idea to prepare for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment and know what to expect from your doctor.

What you can do

  • Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions. At the time you make the appointment, be sure to ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as restrict your diet or wear loosefitting clothes in the event that you have an imaging exam.
  • Write down any symptoms you're experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
  • Make a list of all medications, vitamins or supplements that you're taking.
  • Take a family member or friend along, if possible. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember all of the information provided to you during an appointment. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed or forgot.
  • Write down questions to ask your doctor.

Preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time with your doctor. For a suspected pinched nerve, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:

  • What's the most likely cause of my symptoms?
  • What kinds of tests do I need?
  • Is my condition likely temporary or long lasting?
  • What treatment do you recommend?
  • What are the alternatives to the primary approach that you're suggesting?
  • I have these other health conditions. How can I best manage these conditions together?
  • Are there any activity restrictions that I need to follow?
  • Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can take home with me? What websites do you recommend visiting?

In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask other questions during your appointment.

What to expect from your doctor

Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. They may include:

  • What are your symptoms? Do you feel pain, numbness, tingling or weakness?
  • Where, specifically, are you feeling these symptoms?
  • How long have you been experiencing these symptoms?
  • Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
  • Is there an activity or a position that triggers your symptoms?
  • Is there an activity or a position that relieves your symptoms?
  • Do you have a job or hobby that requires you to make repetitive motions?