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What is Peripheral Nerve Compression?

Every nerve has a specific job. That job may be to help a muscle move, transmit sensation back to your spinal cord and brain, or both. As nerves leave the spine, they will course through the body and are vulnerable to compression or entrapment anywhere along its course. The nerves can be chronically compressed or trapped by acute injuries, causing swelling (such as a sprain or fracture).

Peripheral nerve compression occurs when a nerve is squeezed or compacted, typically at a single location. Nerves in the limbs and extremities are generally affected. Common symptoms include pain, numbness, and muscle weakness at the site of the nerve. Medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes can also play a role.

If a peripheral nerve becomes injured, compressed or trapped, it may prevent you from being able to do a particular function such as move your fingers or toes. The pain is usually described as burning, sharp, stabbing or tingling.

Common peripheral nerve compression syndromes:

Carpal tunnel syndrome is the most common. It occurs when the median nerve is compressed at the wrist. The median nerve extends from the upper arm to the thumb. At the wrist, it passes through a structure called the carpal tunnel. Excess pressure on the wrist may cause swelling, which can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.

Cubital tunnel syndrome is the second-most common type of nerve compression. Also known as ulnar neuropathy or ulnar nerve entrapment at elbow. The ulnar nerve is responsible for the sensation that you get when you hit your funny bone. It passes close to the skin at the elbow. Putting too much pressure on the elbow may cause swelling.

Suprascapular nerve compression syndrome can cause symptoms in the shoulder.

Guyon’s canal syndrome also affects the ulnar nerve and can impact function in the hand.

Radial nerve compression syndrome extends the length of the arm and can impact wrist, hand, and finger function.


A thorough history and physical examination can usually identify nerve compression syndrome, but confirmatory testing such as ultrasound, MRI, electromyography and nerve conduction test will be ordered if surgery is recommended.


  • Lifestyle. Avoiding movements that cause pain or change job duties to improve symptoms. When obesity is the cause of nerve compression syndrome, losing weight may alleviate the pain.

  • Physical therapy can help improve your flexibility, strength, and range of motion in the affected area as well as relieve symptoms such as pain and numbness.

  • Medication may be prescribed depending on the severity of symptoms. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil) and aspirin may relieve pain while corticosteroids such as dexamethasone are injected directly around the nerve.

  • Prosthetic devices such as a splint or a brace will help you avoid putting pressure on the nerve.

  • Surgical procedures are generally considered a last resort and depends on the type of nerve structures that are affected. The outlook for surgery depends on many factors, including how long you’ve had symptoms, how severe your symptoms are, and any other underlying health conditions you might have.

The following home remedies may prevent or relieve symptoms of nerve compression syndrome:

  • stopping activities that cause pain

  • taking regular breaks when doing repetitive tasks

  • wearing a splint or brace

  • using relaxation exercises

  • elevating the affected area

  • doing stretches and exercises to improve strength and flexibility

The outlook for nerve compression syndrome varies. In very severe cases, it can lead to permanent nerve damage or loss of function in the affected area. However, this is rare. You should make an appointment if you experience symptoms because when nerve compression syndrome is identified and treated early, significant improvements can be made. Many people make a full recovery.

For more information or to request an appointment, please contact Dr. Patrick McDaid, M.D. at

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