‘Trapped nerve’ is a commonly used term, which refers to nerves, which may become trapped and/or squashed between bones or muscles, often in the spine and neck. This entrapment may be dynamic, that is changing with different positions and may not appear on any scans. Sometimes the nerves may be hypersensitive and behave as if they are trapped.
A medical expert can usually diagnose a trapped nerve by a patient’s symptoms and medical history. X-rays, as well as CT and MRI scans, can sometimes directly reveal a trapped nerve, as can a more simple physical examination. In many conditions, however, scans are unable to pick up trapped nerves.
Most trapped nerves improve with time, with simple pain-killers including anti-inflammatories and appropriate resting, simple gentle exercises and application of hot/ cold packs.
Specialist physiotherapy or Pain management may be required if the above measures are ineffective. Pain management includes specific medicines, steroid injections or neuromodulation. In some cases, surgery may be an option to free the nerve or to rectify other damage caused.
One of the most common causes of a trapped nerve is a slipped disc, i.e. when the shock absorbing tissue, between the bones of the spine, slips out. Other causes including arthritis and degeneration (wear and tear) of the bones or injury to the spine can also result in trapped nerves. Other causes include bone spurs, spinal stenosis and carpal tunnel syndrome. Trapped nerves can also occur after muscular injuries or with scar tissues developing after surgery.