On average, a pinched nerve can last from as little as a few days to as long as 4 to 6 weeks — or, in some cases, even longer (in which case you should see your doctor).
Considering the sharp pain and numbness that may occur with a pinched nerve, it’s understandable that you might want to do what you can to get rid of it as quickly as possible.
A pinched nerve is caused by pressure from surrounding tissues that place too much stress against it.
Muscles, bone, cartilage, and tendons can all press against a nerve. This can result in a loss of function in the affected nerve, which can then lead to symptoms including:
Treating a pinched nerve is crucial to your recovery timeline. More severe cases may require surgery.
If you suspect you have a pinched nerve, read on to learn what steps you can take now to help and what to expect during your recovery.
The amount of time a pinched nerve lasts can depend on whether you seek quick treatment as well as on what’s causing pressure on the nerve.
Recovery may also vary based on the location of the pinched nerve.
Cases related to chronic conditions, such as arthritis, may last longer. In this case, you should see your doctor for a treatment plan.
Here’s what to expect from a pinched nerve in various parts of your body.
A pinched nerve in your neck can cause tingling sensations and pain, which may extend to your shoulders and arms. This type of pinched nerve can be caused by:
The pain will typically ease within several days, unless the pinched nerve is caused by a chronic health condition like arthritis.
Lower back pain may be acute, lasting only a few days. If a pinched nerve doesn’t resolve, however, it may cause chronic back pain that lasts 12 weeks or more.
Your legs may develop pinched nerves from herniated discs in your back or injuries.
When left untreated, pinched nerves may lead to peripheral neuropathy. This may develop over the course of several weeks or years.
A pinched nerve in your hip may last for a few days if it’s related to an injury.
If the pain lasts longer than a few days, see your doctor. Possible causes of chronic hip pain may include:
Shoulder pain from a pinched nerve usually originates in your upper spine as a result of:
- an injury
One way to tell your pain is from a pinched nerve and not a muscle strain is the sudden sharpness of the aches. The pain also tends to occur in one shoulder only.
Left untreated, arthritis or tendinitis of the shoulder may lead to chronic pain that can come and go for several weeks, months, or years.
Frequent typing is commonly linked to pinched nerves in the wrist.
Pinched nerves in the wrist can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. This is when you experience pain and numbness extending through your hand and fingers.
Pain that lasts for longer than 2 months may indicate another underlying issues, such as arthritis.
Treatment for a pinched nerve starts with home remedies that help alleviate:
- overall discomfort
The earlier you treat a pinched nerve, the quicker you may recover.
Here are a few home remedies you can try right now:
- ice packs or heating pads, used from 15 minutes to 1 hour for pain and inflammation
- resting the affected area
- over-the-counter pain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or acetaminophen
- light stretches for the affected area to encourage blood flow and movement
- adjusting your posture and sleep position
In many cases, you may be able to remedy a pinched nerve at home without requiring any further treatment.
But you should see your doctor if:
- Your symptoms last for longer than a few days.
- Your symptoms are severe.
- The pinched nerve pain keeps coming back.
Medical treatments may be necessary for severe pinched nerves that don’t respond to home remedies. If appropriate, your doctor may prescribe stronger NSAIDs or corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and pain.
Other medical treatments for pinched nerves include:
- Physical therapy for pinched nerves that affect your mobility, including in the lower back, shoulder, or neck. A physical therapist guides you through stretches and exercises you can do in the office and at home to help decrease nerve compression and pain.
- Splints for your wrist or a cervical collar for your neck to help support limited mobility in these areas as you heal.
- Surgery as a last-resort treatment, especially when a pinched nerve is permanently damaged.
Surgery is most common for pinched nerves related to spinal issues, but it may also be used for other cases, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Other risk factors that can cause the compression that leads to pinched nerves include:
Once treated, a pinched nerve will likely go away unless the same body tissues press against the affected nerve again.
Chronic compression may lead to permanent nerve damage, so it’s important to help take preventive measures when you can.
You may be able to help prevent a pinched nerve in the following ways:
- Lose weight. Obesity is a common risk factor for pinched nerves because excess body weight places undue pressure on your nerves. Talk to your doctor about how you can maintain a healthy weight in the long term.
- Take breaks during repetitive activities. If your job requires repetitive hand and arm movements, such as using computers, construction, or assembly line work, try to stop and stretch the affected limb as often as possible. The same strategy may help with certain sports activities, such as tennis and baseball.
- Take frequent movement breaks. Avoid sitting and lying down in one position for long periods of time to prevent excessive pressure against your nerves.
- Maintain a good posture. This includes standing up tall with your shoulders rolled back, as well as engaging your core muscles to place less stress on your lower back. Avoid crossing your legs to help alleviate pressure in your lower limbs.
- Add strength and flexibility exercises to your workout routine. Resistance bands, light hand weights, and yoga stretches can all help strengthen your bones, joints, and muscles.
Depending on its location and severity, a pinched nerve may last for a few days, several weeks, or even longer than that.
In the most severe cases, recurring compression against the nerve may result in permanent damage.
Talk with your doctor if you experience a pinched nerve that keeps coming back or lasts for longer than several days.
Your doctor can order tests to determine the underlying causes of the nerve compression and help you with a treatment plan to help prevent lasting damage.