Woman holding her back in pain due to nerve entrapment

Numbness, tingling, or the feeling of electric pain zapping through your limbs can be pretty scary – but these common signs of nerve entrapment are not necessarily be anything to panic about. With the help of trained experts, nerve entrapment can be effectively treated.

Here is a closer look at the intricacies of nerve entrapment, including its causes, symptoms, and treatments. 

What is Nerve Entrapment? 

Nerve entrapment is what it sounds like: A nerve is trapped (or compressed/pinched) between something, like a bone and ligament. 

What Causes Nerve Entrapment? 

A nerve can get pinched in different ways. Most commonly, it gets trapped by fascia or muscle holding onto it. 

Trauma or injury can cause nerve entrapment. Something hits that area and causes scar tissue. 

With high-level athletes or weightlifters, nerve entrapment can occur from using the same muscle over and over. When you do a motion repeatedly, the muscle grows. And as the muscle gets bigger, it can push on a nearby nerve. If the muscles in that area aren’t loose at the same time they are growing bigger, there may not be enough space – which can start to compress things. 

Inside the body, there are bundles of muscles, and between those, there are major arteries, veins, and nerves. These all run together; almost anywhere you see a blood vessel, there’s probably a nerve nearby. The compression of two muscles next to each other due to tightness and hypertrophy can push on those nerves. 

If you’ve ever sat with your legs crossed for a long time, you’ve likely experienced a leg “falling asleep.” That’s due to compression on a nerve. In this case, it’s due to the reduction of blood flow – but it’s the same idea: Tissue is compressed by something, whether that’s an injury or tight muscle. 

Symptoms Of A Pinched Nerve

Usually, the symptoms of nerve entrapment feel similar to other nerve issues: numbness, tingling, an electric pain, pins and needles, shocks. 

Reduction of blood flow (like your foot “falling asleep”) can lead to pins and needles, but it won’t last long. The big difference is the nerves follow specific pathways, whereas you will feel the symptoms in an entire region with reduced blood flow. For example, if your whole hand feels tingly, it’s indicative of reduced blood flow, probably due to how you were positioned. But if your first two fingers or only middle finger are tingly, it’s more likely a pinched nerve – and it might need our help to fix it. 

If a nerve is severely compressed, you may also experience muscle weakness. 

Where Does Nerve Entrapment Occur? 

You may experience a pinched nerve anywhere that you have a nerve, like your leg, ankle, or foot. 

Overusing the flexors in your forearm can cause numb hands that may be mistaken for carpal tunnel syndrome, which is actually a pinched nerve in the wrist. Misdiagnosing that for carpal tunnel and then trying to treat carpal tunnel can be ineffective.  

Sometimes, people come into our office thinking they have sciatica or plantar fasciitis, only to learn it’s a pinched nerve. Other times, people think they know the issue is related to nerves, but can’t pinpoint what is creating the pain. 

Nerve entrapment can be in a limb, but it can also be on the surface of the skin. This can happen when people have compression around their waistline, such as a police officer who wears a heavy belt, lifters who use tight weightlifting belts, and people who are pregnant. 

An exam can determine the root problem, which helps indicate the best methods of treatment. 

How to Treat Nerve Entrapment

There are many different ways to treat a pinched nerve. Here are some of the ways we can help in our office:

Dry Needling

Dry needling can help relax the muscle if tightness is the cause. With dry needling, we insert acupuncture-size needles into a trigger point or dysfunctional muscle to stimulate a neurological response by activating the motor neuron. The thin needles essentially deactivate and desensitize the trigger points in the muscles. We can also apply a gentle electric current to the needles for additional stimulation. 

Soft Tissue Mobilization

With this, we use a noninvasive instrument to scape and smooth out the fascia. It breaks down scar tissue and fascial restrictions and improves or maintains a healthy range of motion. This is useful if a nerve is pinched by fascia. 

Floss Bands

We can use floss bands (also called mobility bands) on an extremity. Think of this like a pin and stretch. We temporary pin/compress a body part and move it through a range of motion, flossing the nerve through the tight tissue. If the nerve entrapment is fascial-based, the fascia or scar tissue can get sticky and pinch the nerve. By pinning that down and bringing the joint through a range of motion, we can release the grip it has on the nerve. 

Myofascial Release Technique 

Myofascial Release Technique (MRT) involves applying sustained pressure on restricted connective tissue. We pin the muscle and bring you through a range of motion, either actively or passively. For example, if you had numbness in your thigh, we might pin the quad and move you into a quad stretch to stretch the fascia around it. With MRT treatment, we send you home with specific stretches and exercises to do at home. 

How Quickly Does a Pinched Nerve Improve? 

How quickly a pinched nerve resolves depends on a lot of factors, including how long it’s been an issue. The longer a nerve has been pinched, the more work that goes into relieving it. But other times, things can resolve after a few sessions. We have seen patients who were told they needed surgery to ablate the nerve, only to have the problem resolved after three sessions – no surgery needed.  

How To Prevent Nerve Entrapment

Preventing nerve entrapment can be quick and easy, if it’s related to lifestyle. Tight boots or pants can cause nerve compression, so if something causes numbness, don’t wear it. Sometimes it can be that simple. Other times, it’s more complicated and may require specific stretching and exercises. 

The good news is once you resolve nerve entrapment, we rarely see it return – unless it’s related to an old trauma, like a vehicle accident with a lot of scar tissue. In those cases, we aim to keep the scar tissue as soft as possible, which helps keep those uncomfortable or painful tingles away.