Upper Extremity Nerve Compression
Nerves form the central nervous system and are involved in conducting messages from the brain to other parts of the body. They are of two types – motor, which help in movement and sensory, which lets us sense pressure, temperature and pain. Many nerve fibers are grouped together to form a bundle and are protected by an insulating cover.
Messages in the form of electric pulses pass through nerves, to and from the brain, through cells called neurons. Neurons are made up of 3 parts: a cell body, a long tube-like axon which transmits signals to the next nerve cells and dendrites that receive signals from other neurons.
Nerves may get compressed or ‘pinched’ when pressure is exerted as a result of repetitive movement or holding the body in one position for a long time. Compression usually occurs between bones, ligaments and tendons present in various sites of the body. Nerves get inflamed when pressure is applied and do not function properly. If the pressure is released within a short time, no permanent damage occurs and the nerve continues its normal functioning. However, nerves that remain compressed for a long time can produce chronic pain, swelling, scarring and cause permanent nerve damage.
A compressed nerve can lead to pain, numbness or tingling sensations, and twitching or muscle weakness.
If these symptoms continue for many days and do not improve with rest and over-the-counter pain relievers, you should visit your doctor.
Your doctor may conduct a few tests including
- Nerve conduction study which involves passing a mild electrical impulse to the affected area to note the damage of nerves
- Electromyography measures the electric activity of muscles during movement
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) helps the doctor take images of your body
Your doctor will recommend the following conservative treatments:
- Immobilization of the affected region with a splint or brace
- Physical therapy exercises or modification of activities that cause or aggravate the pressure on nerves
- Pain relievers such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
If these methods do not help even after several weeks or a few months, your doctor may recommend surgery. If the nerves in the wrist are affected, your surgeon will cut the ligament pressing against the nerve to create more space for the nerve.