A trapped or pinched nerve can be very painful, especially if it takes a long time for your joints to release the nerve. Mild cases can last up to eight weeks, while more severe nerve entrapment can last several months .
The NHS offers excellent care, but it’s not always easy to get NHS treatment for a trapped nerve. In many cases, the problem will resolve itself with steps you can take at home. But for people with more severe or chronic symptoms, private practitioners such as Harley Street Specialist Hospital can provide fast, accessible treatment for trapped nerves.
If your trapped nerve is causing you severe or even moderate discomfort, there are treatments available. Find out all about NHS treatments for trapped nerves here.
What is a trapped nerve?
A trapped nerve happens when a bone, tendon, or cartilage shifts, pinching or applying pressure on one or more of your nerves. This causes the nerve to react with pain, tingling, or numbness. In some cases, it can make your limbs feel weak.
Trapped nerves may occur as a result of:
- A herniated disc — A slipped spinal disc can press down on your sciatic nerve, leading to sciatica and other pain conditions.
- Injury in the affected area — A sudden injury from sports, work, or other physical activities can pinch a nerve which can lead to discomforts such as upper back pain when breathing or moving.
- Repetitive strain injury — Repeated actions may lead to trapped nerve problems (carpal tunnel syndrome is often caused by repetitive strain injury) .
- Being overweight — Inflammation associated with obesity may lead to the development of sciatica and other trapped nerve problems .
Where can you get a trapped nerve?
You can get a trapped nerve anywhere in the body, but it’s most likely to affect the neck, shoulder, arm, hip, knee, back, elbow, or groin.
A trapped nerve causing sciatica is likely to cause shooting pains in your leg that begin in the hip or glute.
Your NHS trapped nerve treatment plan will depend on where your trapped nerve is, how much it’s affecting you day-to-day, and which treatments you’ve already tried.
How do you treat a trapped nerve?
First-line treatments for trapped nerves include:
- Recommended exercises — Movement can untrap your pinched nerve. Your GP may recommend some specific exercises that target the specific area of pain. Find out what exercises the NHS recommends.
- Painkillers — Oral or topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen may be used to reduce pain from a trapped nerve.
- Hot or cold compress — Applying an ice or heat pack to the affected area can provide some temporary short-lasting pain relief .
- Steroid injections — Combined with local anaesthetic, corticosteroid injections can reduce inflammation and pain caused by a trapped nerve. These may be offered if other treatments haven’t worked.
- Radiofrequency ablation — This procedure prevents the nerves from sending pain signals to the brain, minimising discomfort caused by a trapped nerve.
- Hydrodissection — A jet of balanced salt solution is injected to seperate the tissues pinching your nerve.
If these treatments don’t work, you may be referred for decompression surgery. This involves having an operation under general anaesthetic to relieve the physical pressure on your compressed nerve(s). Surgery is usually the only way to cure sciatica permanently.
NHS treatments for a trapped nerve
NHS treatments for trapped nerves are generally the same as those outlined above. But thanks in part to the ongoing disruption to NHS services caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, NHS treatments for trapped nerves are limited and waiting times can be lengthy. Find out more about what the NHS can do for sciatic and the treatment of trapped nerves.
Can a GP help with a trapped nerve?
If you visit your GP, you’re likely to be recommended a treatment plan that consists of exercise and painkillers to ease pain in the short term. For some people, this is enough to relieve the pressure of a trapped nerve.
But for many others, further treatments are necessary. On the NHS, waiting times for physiotherapy, NHS cortisone injections, hydrodissection, and other treatments can be very long. Currently, more than 6% of patients on an NHS waiting list have been waiting more than a year for treatment, with more than 50% waiting more than four months .
That’s why many people turn to private treatments for trapped nerves. With options for those with private health insurance as well as self-referring patients, you can get fast, affordable relief for your trapped nerve symptoms. Book an appointment at Harley Street Specialist Hospital to alleviate your trapped nerve pain.
Should you keep moving with a trapped nerve?
Keep doing your daily activities as much as possible if you have a trapped nerve, but avoid irritating the affected area with too much movement. Sudden or jerky movements can make the pain worse, and won’t help with healing.
Instead, stick to gentle exercises and stretches recommended by your doctor or physiotherapist.
Should I go to A&E for a trapped nerve?
You don’t normally need emergency care for a trapped nerve. However, other symptoms alongside a trapped nerve may suggest you need urgent medical care, in which case you should go to A&E or call 999.
- Sciatica on both sides of the body.
- Numbness around your genitals.
- Bladder or bowel incontinence.
- Chest pain.
- Severe pain you feel unable to cope with.
You should also seek emergency treatment if you’ve sustained a serious injury or been in a car accident.
Exercises for relieving a trapped nerve
These exercises can help release the compression on your nerves. If performing any of them increases your trapped nerve pain, stop doing them and seek advice.
Exercises for a trapped nerve in the neck or shoulder
- Shoulder abduction — Start with your arms by your sides. Lift your arms until they’re in line with your shoulders (at a 90° angle to your body). Hold for several seconds, then lower. Increase resistance by holding free weights while you move.
- Side bends — Stand tall with your hands raised above your head. Hold your left hand in your right and tilt your neck and arms to the left until you feel a stretch down the right side of your body. Hold and repeat on the other side.
- Shoulder rolls — Stand tall with your arms by your sides. Lift your shoulders up to your ears, then rotate them backwards in a circular motion. Change direction after 30 seconds.
Exercises for a trapped nerve in the back, hip, and knee
Watch this NHS video for exercises that can help decompress the sciatic nerve and other nerves in your back:
Exercises for a trapped nerve in the arm, elbow, and wrist
- Ulnar nerve slider — Hold your left arm out to the side with your palm facing the wall. Gradually curl the arm backwards until your fingertips touch your left earlobe. Repeat several times, then switch sides.
- Wrist extension stretch — Hold your left arm out in front of you and bend your wrist upwards so your palm is facing away from you. With your right hand, gently pull the left palm towards you, keeping a soft bend in the elbow. Hold for 15 seconds, then switch sides.
Exercises for a trapped nerve in the groin
- Piriformis stretch — Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your left ankle on your right knee, then lift the right leg up until your shin is parallel with the ceiling. Pull your right knee towards you gently and hold for 15 seconds. Repeat and swap sides.
- Outer hip stretch — Lie on your back with your left leg flat and your right leg bent at the knee. Put your left hand on your right knee and pull it across your body. Hold to feel the stretch in your hip. Repeat on both sides.
Non-NHS trapped nerve treatments
Home exercises and GP prescriptions may help alleviate mild pain stemming from a trapped nerve. But if you’re struggling with the discomfort from your trapped nerve, or you’re concerned about it developing into more long-term nerve damage, it’s important to seek specialist help.