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Pinched nerve

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Pinched, entrapped or compressed nerves cause pain, numbness, and weakness of the muscles in the affected area.


The symptoms of a pinched or entrapped nerve depend on the location and function of the affected nerve. Pain, numbness and irritation in the part of the body served by the nerve are common symptoms, and weakness and wasting of the muscles may also occur if the condition is longstanding.

Over the long term, the skin may become thin, dry and susceptible to ulcers, and nails may become ridged and cracked.

Common examples of pinched nerve syndromes and their symptoms include:

Carpal tunnel syndrome:

  • Pain is described as burning, tingling or like an electric shock or pins and needles. The pain may travel from the wrist up the arm or down into the palm and fingers, but the little finger and half the ring finger usually remain unaffected. Pain may also be referred into the arm and shoulder. The pain may be worse at night, and may wake the patient up.
  • Numbness in the palm, wrist, fingers or forearm. This is often the first symptom and may occur when driving or holding something, such as a mobile phone.
  • Weakness of the hand and reduced ability to use the thumb may develop as the condition progresses, limiting the ability to hold objects and interfering with every day activities such as buttoning clothes or tying laces. The muscles may become visibly wasted (reduced in size).

Cubital tunnel syndrome:

  • Pain is described as aching, and is felt deep within the elbow region. It tends to feel worse when the inner side of the elbow is knocked or pressed.
  • Pain may be worse at night, especially if you sleep with your elbow bent.
  • Intermittent tingling and numbness in the ring and little fingers may occur.
  • It may become difficult to grasp objects as the hand may become weak. Wasting of the hand muscles may occur over time.


  • Aching or hot pain in the buttock, hamstring (back of the thigh), calf, ankle and/or foot, which may be aggravated when coughing or straining (e.g. lifting heavy objects).
  • Pins and needles may also occur.
  • Muscles of the leg and foot may become weak.

Pinched nerves can also occur in other parts of the body, including the shoulder and groin.


Pinched nerves tend to occur at places where a nerve travels through a ‘tunnel’ of ligaments and bony surfaces, and the wrist (carpal tunnel syndrome, caused by compression of the median nerve) and elbow (cubital tunnel syndrome, caused by compression of the ulnar nerve) are the most common locations for these injuries to occur.

Both carpal and cubital tunnel syndromes may be caused by any of a number of factors that reduce the space inside the tunnels that house the nerves. These include:

  • Trauma or injury to the wrist or elbow.
  • Over-use of the hands or elbows (for example, participating in work or sporting activities that involve long periods of repetitive movements, such as computer work, assembly line work, construction work, gardening or golfing). In the case of cubital tunnel syndrome, resting the elbow on a hard surface for long periods of time may also contribute.
  • Fluid retention (for example, as a consequence of pregnancy).
  • Inflammation of the tissues (for example due to rheumatoid arthritis).

Deficiency of vitamin B6 may also be associated with carpal tunnel syndrome.

The sciatic nerve travels from the spinal cord, into the buttock and then down the thigh and leg. Sciatica occurs if a disc between the vertebrae bulges out, causing pressure on the sciatic nerve. This is often referred to as a ‘slipped disc’.

Osteoarthritis may also cause sciatic pain by narrowing the space available for the nerve to travel through. Accordingly, sciatica becomes more prevalent as we get older and the bony and cartilaginous structures of the spine degenerate.

Diet and lifestyle

  • In many cases, changes to your lifestyle may help resolve the symptoms, but it is still advisable to seek professional treatment, as pinched nerves that are severe or persist for a long time can potentially lead to permanent damage to the tissues. The following suggestions are recommended as supportive measures, and should not take the place of professional care and advice.
  • Immobilisation can be very useful in some cases. For example, splinting of the wrist is commonly used to minimise movement and decrease pressure on the nerve in carpal tunnel syndrome, and more than 80% of patients report that this leads to an improvement in symptoms. Don’t delay in asking your physiotherapist whether this is an appropriate option for you, as splinting appears to be most beneficial when commenced within 3 months of the development of symptoms.
  • However, while immobilisation (bed rest) was previously recommended for relief of sciatica, remaining active is now considered more effective. After consultation with your doctor or physiotherapist, exercise regularly, choosing gentle, low-impact activities such as swimming.
  • Your healthcare professional can assist with information about behaviour and particular movements to avoid, and specific exercises to stretch, strengthen and condition the tissues in the affected area, which may help to relieve your symptoms.
  • If you do repetitive work and suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome; avoid bending the wrist excessively when working on a computer keyboard, or putting the wrists into any positions that worsen your symptoms.
  • If you have sciatica, avoid bending over or lifting heavy weights.
  • Ask your physiotherapist about ergonomic aids that may be beneficial for your circumstances. For example, some computer operators find that ergonomically designed keyboards decrease the pressure on the wrists, and ergonomic furniture (e.g. chairs with lumbar support) may be beneficial for some patients with sciatica.
  • Stop smoking, as it may delay your recovery.
  • If you have an underlying health problem that predisposes you to nerve entrapment (for example, hypothyroidism or rheumatoid arthritis), working with your healthcare professional to manage your condition may help to reduce your nerve symptoms at the same time.
  • Women whose symptoms have arisen due to pregnancy can expect to find relief after the baby’s born, and people who are obese are likely to notice symptom relief when they lose weight.
  • In addition to physiotherapy, treatment from a chiropractor, osteopath, or acupuncturist may help.
Always warm up before commencing exercise and don't forget to stretch before, during and after activity.

Try to avoid the tasks that aggravate the condition.

Important notes

  • Consult your healthcare professional if you have a pinched nerve, especially if the symptoms are severe or limit your movement.
  • Surgery may be recommended if symptoms don’t improve with other measures, or are severe or long standing.

Get free personalised advice from our team of qualified naturopaths here

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Hi Marilyn
Yes it does sound like you have nerve involvement which is causing you discomfort and tingling in your leg. I would recommend seeing a osteopath or physiotherapist for further investigation and treatment. You may need a referral to a physio from your doctor. I would also suggest taking some magnesium and fish oils in the interim. Please feel free to give a us a call on 1800 803 760, once you have seen a osteopath or physio and we can recommend further treatment based on their diagnosis. Kind regards
Kath (Blackmores Naturopath)

I seem to have a nerve problem in the hip area very painful and when I stand it is like an electric shock hits my hip and releases the problem but this happens every time I sit and every time I stand it is getting very hard to even walk and the zap I get is extremely painful my whole leg is tingly and very painful.
Anonymous 17 Nov 2014
Keep the sport/business link information flowing Marcus.
Murray Smith
Health Pharmacy Group
Anonymous 02 Oct 2014
Hi David, Thanks for your post. I understand the cold will help reduce inflammation and swelling esp. after an impact injury however a pinched nerve may be better treated with the use of heat, esp. around the spinal area. The heat will be soothing. A true pinched nerve will always have pins and needles, numbness, power loss and lancinating pains. From a Naturopathic perspective, we would suggest you look at Epson salt magnesium baths, magnesium supplementation internally, along with Fish oils and consider St John’s wort to support the nerve support. You may like to put this question to an osteopath or physio for their opinion. All the best, Gina (Blackmores naturopath)

With a pinched nerve in the lower back, should ice be applied straight away or a heat pack. As I was advised ice is the first procedure to lower the body temperature.
Anonymous 17 Jun 2014
Hi Marka, thank you for your post. I’m afraid this service is only able to provide general naturopathic opinion and is not able to diagnose or give specific medical advice. I suggest you see your doctor about how to address the pain caused by your compressed sciatic nerve. All the best, Leanne (a Blackmores naturopath)
I got compress ciatica nervs and I am in pain 24 h is a srgaery okay for me
Anonymous 06 Jan 2014

Dear Don,
It sounds like you are in a great deal of pain. How long have you suffered with these symptoms? Have you had an injury or illness of late?
My first recommendation is to visit your local doctor, if you haven’t already done so, so they can investigate further.
You may find the suggestions in the article above to be helpful to you, especially in regards to sciatica.
You could try taking a magnesium formula as magnesium is a mineral essential for many functions in the body, specifically the normal functioning of muscle and nerve tissue. Signs of low magnesium levels can include muscle cramps and problems with nerve conduction and muscle contraction. Essential fatty acids may also be helpful. Physical therapies, such as massage or physiotherapy could also be of benefit.
If you need any further advice please contact the Blackmores Naturopathic Advisory service on 1800-803-760, or email us at

Kind regards Kath (Blackmores Naturopath)