Pinched nerves are a common problem which can be a result of injury, bad posture, or degenerative diseases such as ankylosing spondylitis. All of these conditions can cause extra pressure on nerves which leads to symptoms such as tingling, numbness, or a burning sensation.
Conventional pinched nerve treatments include anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen, or steroid injections in the affected area. These medications may work well as a quick fix, but they can cause side effects and do nothing to help the underlying cause of the problem.
Because of this, many people are now turning to alternative medicines such as acupuncture. But is this ancient therapy really an effective pinched nerve treatment? Let’s take a look.
Acupuncture for Pinched Nerves
From a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) perspective, pain is usually seen as a symptom of qi and blood stagnation. This can occur as a result of injury, poor posture, overuse, or even long-term emotional stress.
No matter the cause of qi and blood stagnation, the symptoms are usually similar; swelling, stiffness, and pain. Many acupuncturists now believe that qi and blood stagnation is the same as what western doctors call inflammation.
TCM doctors believe that acupuncture for pinched nerves works by improving the flow of qi and blood, and we now know that it does reduce inflammation.
Acupuncture also relieves pain by altering the way that pain signals are perceived by the brain, and releasing chemicals called endorphins, your body’s natural version of morphine.
Acupuncture for pinched nerves can involve needles being placed in the painful area or elsewhere on the body, depending on your symptoms.
One particularly effective treatment is trigger point therapy, a technique which involves releasing ‘knots’ in the muscles to relieve pain and tension. This may be especially helpful if you have a pinched nerve due to bad posture and muscle tension.
Your acupuncturist can also show you stretches and exercises to help you relieve your symptoms between sessions.
Pinched Nerve Treatments to Try at Home
Although acupuncture can help to relieve pain and inflammation, it is important that you continue to treat your pinched nerve at home between sessions.
Try to rest as much as possible and avoid doing any activities that make your pinched nerve feel worse. Check your posture, especially if you sit at a computer for long periods. Your feet should be flat on the floor with your knees at a 90-degree angle and your back and neck straight. Your arms should rest comfortably on your desk with your elbows also at 90 degrees.
If you suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome, you can try using a support while you work or sleep. However, neck braces are no longer recommended for pinched nerves due to neck problems and it is considered best to keep moving and stretch regularly.
Many people also find that heat or ice packs help. Heat packs can relax the muscles surrounding your pinched nerve, while ice packs can reduce inflammation. Experiment with both and see which works best for you. Both heat and ice packs should be applied for 10–15 minutes, several times a day. If using an ice pack, wrap it in a towel first to avoid damaging your skin.