A pinched nerve is a damaged or compressed nerve. It develops when a nerve root is injured or inflamed. The nerve root is the part where a nerve branches off from the spinal cord.
You can get a pinched nerve in different parts of the spine, including your neck, or thoracic or lumbar spine. A pinched nerve in the neck can cause radiculopathy. Symptoms of radiculopathy can include numbness, tingling, weakness, and pain into the arm.
Pinched nerves affect about 85 out of every 100,000 adults in the United States each year. In early middle-aged adults, it’s usually caused by a herniated disc. This happens when one of the soft discs in between the vertebrae of your spine slips out and irritates nearby nerves. It may be the result of sudden lifting, twisting, or bending.
Pinched nerves are most common in people aged 50 to 54. In middle-aged people and older adults, it’s often caused by age-related degeneration of the spine. Over time, discs can shorten, causing vertebrae to compress and irritate nearby nerves. Bone growths can also compress the nerves.
A pinched nerve in the neck may feel like pins and needles. It might also cause pain and weakness in the shoulder, arm, or hand.
Severe cases require medical care. But if your symptoms are mild, you can try exercises for a pinched nerve in the neck.
A physical therapist can demonstrate the best pinched nerve stretches for your symptoms.
Mild pain, however, may be relieved with gentle exercises. These moves focus on stretching neck muscles and alleviating pressure on the nerve.
To prevent further nerve damage, do these exercises slowly. You can perform them while sitting down or standing up.
Your trapezius muscles are in the back of your neck. If they’re too tight, they can compress your spine and nerves.
This exercise will loosen these muscles and release trapped nerves.
- Place your right hand under your thigh.
- With your left hand, gently bend your head to the left side.
- Pause for 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times on each side.
This move reduces tension in the neck muscles by lengthening your neck. It will also improve posture in the head and neck.
- Place your fingers on your chin.
- Gently push your chin toward your neck, until you have a “double chin.”
- Hold for three to five seconds. Relax.
- Repeat three to five times.
Once you’re comfortable with the move, try chin tucks without using your fingers.
Chin tuck with extension
You can add an extra movement to the chin tuck. It will help stretch your neck in a different direction.
For some people, this exercise might cause dizziness. You should avoid it if you have dizziness issues.
- Pull your head back to do a chin tuck.
- Slowly tilt your head up to the ceiling.
- Return to the chin tuck. Relax.
- Repeat two sets of five reps.
A pinched nerve can decrease your neck’s range of motion, but head turns may help. Perform this exercise in a slow and controlled manner. If you feel pain, try smaller movements.
- Straighten your head and neck. Look ahead.
- Slowly turn your head to the right. Pause five to 10 seconds.
- Slowly turn to the left. Pause five to 10 seconds.
- You can also tilt your head side to side and up and down.
If you have a pinched nerve in the neck, exercises like neck bends will provide relief. You should also do this stretch slowly.
- Gently move your chin down and toward your chest.
- Pause. Return to starting position.
- Repeat 5 to 10 times.
Shoulder rolls release tension in both the shoulders and neck. This can help relieve pressure and pain from a pinched nerve.
- Lift your shoulder blades up, and then roll them back and down.
- Repeat five to six times.
- Repeat in the opposite direction.
In addition to stretches, you can try other treatments for pinched nerves. These methods will decompress nerves, loosen tight muscles, and reduce pain. If you have mild symptoms, you might find relief from:
- soft cervical collar
- hot or cold compress
- practicing good posture
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
More painful cases need medical attention.
Pinched nerve symptoms may range from mild to severe. It’s also possible to have a pinched nerve without any symptoms.
Common symptoms include:
Pinched nerves can resolve on their own. This might take days, weeks, or months.
Visit a doctor if your symptoms don’t go away with home treatments. You should also seek medical help if your symptoms are severe or get worse.
A doctor can refer you to a physical therapist. Depending on your symptoms, they might also suggest oral corticosteroids, steroid injections, or surgery.
If you have a pinched nerve in the neck, these exercises can provide relief. They will help decompress the nerve and loosen tight muscles.
Do these stretches gently and carefully. If you feel pain or discomfort, don’t force it. A physical therapist can show you the best moves for your symptoms.
You can also try other pinched nerve treatments like NSAIDs and hot or cold compress.
If your symptoms are severe or don’t go away, seek medical attention.