We have all felt the sensation of our arm or leg going to sleep, or the uncomfortable tingling that happens when we hit our funny bone. These experiences don’t usually last more than a few seconds, but if tingling, numbness, or pain last, it could be signs of nerve compression.
Nerve compression syndrome, also called nerve entrapment syndrome happens when a nerve is squeezed or compacted, causing pain, muscle weakness, or numbness at the nerve site. It can occur in nerves in the limbs, extremities, and even the torso.
Nerve entrapment negatively affects the nerve’s ability to function correctly, impacting the way it sends and receives messages from the brain. It is a relatively common clinical disorder usually occurring where nerves pass through narrow, tunnel-like structures.
Most Common Types of Nerve Entrapment
Nerve entrapment syndromes are often the result of repetitive injuries, but medical conditions like diabetes, hypothyroidism, and rheumatoid arthritis can also be a cause. The most common types of nerve entrapment include:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel compression is the most common type of nerve entrapment and occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the upper arm to the thumb, gets compressed in the wrist. Excess pressure on the wrist may cause swelling that pushes on the nerve and leads to carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Cubital tunnel syndrome. The second-most common type of nerve entrapment syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome, occurs when the ulnar nerve, which causes the tingling sensation you get when you hit your funny bone, gets compressed at the elbow. Too much pressure in the elbow can cause swelling, which presses on the nerve, causing ulnar nerve entrapment.
- Peroneal nerve entrapment. Peroneal nerve entrapment is caused by the peroneal nerve in the knee becoming damaged, resulting in loss of sensation or movement in the lower leg.
Nerve entrapment symptoms can differ based on the nerve’s location and the type of nerve entrapment that has occurred. They typically only occur in a single location, at the site of the compression, but sometimes can affect the surrounding areas. Symptoms include:
- Tingling sensations or feelings of “pins and needles”
- Numbness, particularly in the hands or feet
- Aches or pain in the area of the compressed nerve, which may radiate outwards
- Muscle weakness in the affected nerve
- Difficulty with certain movements
- Reduced flexibility
Treatments for nerve entrapment start with trying to make small lifestyle changes or with noninvasive therapies. These can help ease the symptoms. Nonsurgical options include:
- Trying ergonomic techniques at work and home
- Avoiding movements that cause pain
- Trying to lose weight if obesity is the cause of the nerve entrapment
- Working with a physical therapist to improve strength, flexibility, and range of motion to improve symptoms
- Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen or aspirin
- Getting steroid shots in the affected area
- Wearing a splint or a brace to help avoid putting pressure on the entrapped nerve
If symptoms don’t ease from trying conservative options, surgery may be considered. Which surgical procedure performed will depend on the type of nerve entrapment syndrome, the nerves being affected, and the degree of compression. Today, among neurosurgeons, nerve entrapment treatments and surgeries make up a sizable portion of a practice.
Our specialists at Neurosurgical Associates of Central New Jersey are vastly experienced with nerve entrapment conditions. If you would like more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our experts, contact us today.