pinched nerve

How to recognize a pinched nerve in the neck (and get relief)

  • April 19, 2021

You may have heard of a pinched nerve, but what is it?  This article will go over how to recognize a pinched nerve in the neck and get some quick relief. 

We’ll cover: 

  • What is a pinched nerve in the neck 
  • Symptoms of a pinched nerve in the neck
  • Self-tests and exercises for a pinched neck nerve


What is a pinched nerve in the neck?

A pinched nerve is referred to as a nerve being compressed by a structure, and those structures can be bones, muscles, tendons, scar tissue.  

Once a nerve is pinched, the blood circulation to it is compromised. That leads to the initial inflammation, which can cause swelling. 

The swelling itself puts more pressure on the nerve and further compromises the circulation.  

This vicious cycle leads to the slow degradation of that nerve and causes that nerve to conduct signals differently, or slowly not sending any signals at all. 

What I just mentioned is what most people would relate to thinking about a pinched nerve; however, another common mechanism that would get a nerve to the pinched is too much stretching!  

In this case, the nerve is under much tension, and it’s being pulled a lot.

We see this scenario a lot in common cases like a “pulled hamstring.” An example of this is a person who always feels like their muscles are tight. They keep stretching further and put more tension on that nerve, and lastly when one has poor motor control, and their joints are moving too much, that would cause much tension at the nerve.

In this article, when we refer to a pinched nerve in the neck, we mainly refer to the nerves that come out from the bottom of your neck.  

pinched nerve

These nerves originate from the middle of the cervical spine (your neck) to the top vertebrae at your upper back (thoracic spine).  This nerve group is called the brachial plexus, and these nerves can be pinched or stretched too much from your neck to your wrists.


What does it feel like when you have a pinched nerve in the neck?

If you have a pinched nerve in your neck you might experience:

  • Starts with neck stiffness
  • Neck pain
  • Hands and fingers tingling, numbness and weakness
  • Wasting of your hands’ muscles
  • They can all happen in different orders too!

There are several stages of a pinched nerve, and let’s go from the mild case to the most severe.

The initial symptoms from a pinched nerve can mimic muscle tightness. Most people stretch the tight muscles because that’s what we were taught to do.  This very stretching can be why one’s pinched nerves got worse because they are putting more tension on the nerves by pulling them even more.

As the nerves get more compressed or stretched, people start to feel “pins and needles” in their hands or fingers.  Their hands, fingers, and overall arms would feel heavier or easily fatigued.  The nerves are struggling to relate the signals to the upper extremities.  

When things are turning badly, one will start to feel numbness.  

Most patients that visit our Downtown Seattle Chiropractic clinic, unintentionally confuse numbness with the sensation of feeling “weird” in their hands and fingers.
The most common description we hear is “my hands and arms feel like they are not mine anymore, or that sensation I would feel when I slept on it for a while”.

The numbness I am referring to is the lack of sensation one lost at their hands or fingers.  For instance, when I put a toothpick or a tuning fork onto a patient’s arms, hands, or fingers, they would tell me they can feel a distinct difference from side to side. More common than one would expect, these patients would report they had started to feel their hands can’t tell the difference between hot or cold water when they wash their hands.

In addition to the numbness, when someone has a severely pinched nerve, they also notice their grip strength getting weaker than before like they can’t hold onto a kettle. I would see cases where their thumb muscles would be a lot smaller than the other side in the clinic.


What kind of exercises/self-care can you do for yourself to relieve a pinched nerve in the neck?

Here are many ways you can start getting that nerve to be “un-pinched.” In the videos below, I will go over several exercises to help with that pinched nerve, which I will call the nerve flossing technique and some self-myofascial release massage you can do to help with the symptoms from the pinched nerves.

We will also go over some simple, but effective upper body strengthening exercises to address the pinched nerve’s cause and how you can prevent them from being pinched again.


You don’t have to suffer from a neck pinched nerve (or similar pain)

Are you experiencing any of the pinched nerve symptoms mentioned above for more than two weeks? In that case, it’s time to contact your local medical providers or us for a thorough evaluation and treatment before your symptoms get worse and require more invasive treatment, such as surgery!

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