Once again, the cold winter months are upon us. Many of us choose to hibernate during this time, as our favorite outdoor activities are more challenging to partake in. Some of us are determined to stay active by running, biking, skiing, winter hiking, etc., and putting on more layers to do the activities we love. I have noticed, in my ten years in practice, that there is an increase in the number of patients coming into the office this time of year, complaining of pain associated with pinched nerves.
Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve
The spinal column consists of individual spinal vertebrae and houses the spinal cord. The spinal cord extends to every organ and system of the body by way of a network of nerves exiting the vertebrae or bones of the spine. These vertebrae can rotate and change their position resulting in pinching of the nerves of the body. This can result in pain, numbness, tingling, a loss of strength, and a loss of function.
Other ways that nerves can pinch is by pressure from a spinal disc (often referred to as a herniated disc), and pressure from soft tissues such as muscle, ligament, or tendon.
The most common areas of the spine to have a pinched nerve is in the lower cervical spine (neck), specifically at the fifth, sixth, or seventh cervical vertebrae.
Many patients with cervical pinched nerves will have pain in the neck, shoulder, shoulder blade, any area of the arm, the wrist, and commonly will have numbness or tingling in the fingers. A patient may have all or just one of these symptoms.
I have many patients with a pinching of the nerves in their neck that only have pain in their shoulder, pain in the wrist (sometimes confused with carpal tunnel syndrome), or even just numbness and tingling in their fingers, and they are not sure where the root of the problem is coming from.
They may not have any neck pain or neck immobility but the root of the problem is coming from the spine, because this is where the nerve begins. Simple orthopedic tests, and dermatome (each vertebrae is associated with a specific skin area where pain or numbness and tingling is present) tests can identify which vertebrae needs to be treated to remove the pressure off the nerve.
The other common area for a pinched nerve in the spine is in the lumbar spine in the lower back, specifically the third, fourth, and fifth lumbar vertebrae. The most common pinched nerve in this area of the spine is often called sciatica if it involves the sciatic nerve. The fourth lumbar is the origin of the sciatic nerve. In the case of this impingement, a patient may have pain only in the back of the leg, it can be shooting, sharp, and even burning.
They can have pain only in the buttocks, or pain only in the foot or ankle. Just as in the neck they may not have any pain in the low back. Some of these patients are convinced they have a leg or foot problem, when the cause of the problem is truly coming from much higher up in the spine.
The cold winter months cause our muscles, tendons, and ligaments to be tighter than in the warmer weather. Imagine our muscles, tendons, and ligaments like rubber. Rubber stretches further when in warmer temperature, but loses elasticity in the colder weather. This is the same way the soft tissues of our body work. So, in the colder temperature months our muscles, tendons, and ligaments are not stretching as far and are actually pulling a bit harder on the vertebrae of the spine. This can lead to a vertebrae going out of alignment and causing a pinching of a nerve.
Best Prevention Tip for a Pinched Nerve
The best injury and pinched nerve prevention, when you are engaging in an activity in the winter months, is to do a very gentle warm up. For about 10 minutes before you engage in the activity mimic the motions that you do in your activity. Such as light running, twisting, throwing, lifting, and this should be at about 10 to 15 percent of your maximum output. This will promote blood flow to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments, allowing them to be more elastic and shock absorber ready.
Proper stretching after the warm-up, and then again after the activity is key for achieving optimal injury prevention and hopefully preventing pinched nerves. The problem is that stretching is usually done incorrectly. Most people stretch too far and too quickly.
Stretches should be gentle, and produce a relaxing sensation of mild stretch or tension. There should be no pain, discomfort, or bouncing movements. The stretch should be held for about 30 seconds, but no less than 20.
Stretching too intensely and/or for less than 20 seconds may initiate a "stretch reflex" which can actually cause the muscle to tighten-up even more.
Please Contact Me if you do find that you have what you think is a pinched nerve, I have effective treatment solutions that will treat the cause of the problem and allow your body to heal properly.
Pinched Nerve Symptoms
Pinched nerves in the neck, and along the
spine, are more common in the colder months.
As much as I love to see my patients, here
are some tips on how you can make
minor changes in your lifestyle
to avoid getting pinched nerves.
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Dr. Louis Granirer 212-243-6663
1133 Broadway at 26th Street Suite 1023 New York, NY 10010
Dr. Louis Granirer
Holistic Chiropractic Center
This page was last updated: May 7, 2013
New York City
“I came to see Dr. Lou for pain and severe fatigue. After just 3 office visits, my pain decreased and I have much more energy. Dr. Lou is truly a special healer!”