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Hand experiencing a nerve pain

Understand About Nerve Pain and Its Treatment

Nerve pain can be present in a number of common conditions. Nerve pain occurs when there is damage, disease or irritation in the nervous system. This can at times cause problems with the signals passing along the nerves. There are many different causes of nerve pain, many of which are associated with compression of neural tissue from postural faults, repetitive movements or trauma. Nerve pain can persist for months if not addressed and may interfere with a person’s quality of life.

Common Symptoms of Nerve Pain:

  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Shooting, burning or stabbing pain
  • Symptoms which are worse in cold weather
  • Pins and needles
  • Weakness

Pinched Nerve

A pinched nerve is a common term used when the pain is very sharp and nerve like and/or travelling as in ‘sciatica’. This can be due to an injury to the structures surrounding the nerve or an irritation of the nerve itself with all the surrounding structures unaffected. The pain usually occurs when the nerve becomes pinched, entrapped or in many cases just sensitised. One of the most common occurrences of a pinched nerve is ‘sciatica’.

What is Sciatica?

The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body running from the lower back down to the lower foot. When this nerve becomes irritated or pinched it can cause varying degrees of leg pain which is known as sciatica.

There are a few causes of sciatica. One that is often mentioned is pressure on the sciatic nerve from a herniated disc. Whilst this is thought to be relatively common, most back and sciatic pain is non-structural. Other causes include compression on the nerve from arthritic changes and joint inflammation. Sciatic type symptoms can also be unrelated to the back in what is called ‘piriformis syndrome’. This is a non-structural irritation of the sciatic nerve occurring in the buttock muscle. Sciatica often occurs between the ages of 30 and 50. It may happen due to general wear and tear or pressure on the discs in the lower spine or it can be completely unrelated to the discs.

Sciatica Symptoms

The symptoms of sciatica often (but not always) begins with lower back pain which spreads to the buttocks, leg and sometimes the foot. The pain may be an aching or dull sensation; however, it can also be sharp shooting pains. Sciatica can also cause numbness, muscle weakness and tingling in the leg. If you are concerned about the state of your condition you should see your physio as soon as possible for an assessment as when numbness or weakness is present, long-term nerve compression can result in permanent damage. 

Pinched Nerve – Neck

Another common location of nerve pain is a pinched nerve in the neck. This type of nerve injury can result in arm weakness, pain and altered reflexes. A pinched nerve in the neck often has similar symptoms to tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome and rotator cuff injury. Your physiotherapist can identify the source of your pain from clinical testing. 

Diagnosing Nerve Pain

You physiotherapist can identify the state of a pinched nerve by the symptoms you present with. You may be referred for further tests such as an X-Ray, MRI or a CT scan to confirm the diagnosis and to assess the severity of your condition.

Nerve Pain Treatment

Your treatment plan will depend on the reason for your nerve pain and the severity of your condition. Treatment may initially include pain management and reducing any inflammation. Nerve physiotherapy may also include restoring muscle strength, local joint mobility, normal posture and flexibility. Your physiotherapist will help you to restore normal range of motion and resting muscle tension using a variety of treatment techniques including dry needling, soft tissue treatments, neural tissue mobilisation and neural tissue exercises. The aim of nerve physiotherapy is to restore full function and control while preventing any recurrence of your condition. Physio for nerve pain treatment helps to restore mobility, muscle strength and control; having you return to your normal daily activities without pain.

Director & Senior Physiotherapist at Integrity Physiotherapy, Leslie Trigg, has over 13 years of experience in clinical practice. He has graduated with a degree in Human Biology (Anatomy and Physiology) from Curtin University in 2001 and later completed a Masters of Physiotherapy in 2007. He has tremendous experience in musculoskeletal, orthopaedic, neurosurgical and sports physiotherapy. In his spare time, he enjoys swimming, listening to music and spending time with his family.