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Nerve Entrapment Syndrome

Nerves carry signals from your brain. These signals help you move your muscles and feel temperature and texture.

Three main nerves run down your arm and hand:

  • The median nerve passes through a small tunnel (the carpal tunnel) between your wrist and ligaments. It helps you bend your wrist, fingers and thumb. It also provides feeling near your palm, thumb, index and middle fingers.

  • The ulnar nerve lies behind your elbow then runs down your arm. It moves your fingers and provides feeling near your little finger and ring finger.

  • The radial nerve runs down the back of your upper arm. It helps you straighten and lift your elbow, wrist, fingers and thumb. It provides feeling near the back of your hand and fingers.

When a nerve in your body becomes restricted, entrapped, or compressed — it is a condition known as nerve entrapment — caused by injury, overuse, or trauma. A trapped nerve negatively affects its ability to send and receive messages from the nervous system. This lack of communication can cause swelling, restricted blood flow, and damage to other parts of the body. If a nerve is stretched or compressed by bone, muscle or other tissue, you may experience chronic pain and other symptoms.

This condition can also be identified by other terms like nerve compression syndrome, compression neuropathy, trapped nerve, and entrapment neuropathy.

Most Common Causes of Nerve Entrapment

There are many ways that a nerve can become compressed, but the most common involves repeated motions that can produce swelling around a nerve. Conditions like carpal or cubital tunnel syndrome are common because the nerve passes through a small opening that may narrow if inflammation occurs.

In addition to repetitive stress, nerve entrapment may also occur if tissue is dislodged. Trauma like sprains, fractures or tissue scarring may apply pressure to a nerve that is sufficient to produce pain, weakness, or loss of sensation.

There are also some health conditions that are more susceptible to nerve entrapment:

  • Diabetes

  • High blood pressure

  • Autoimmune diseases

  • Thyroid dysfunction

  • Tumors or cysts

  • Menopause

  • Pregnancy

  • Obesity

  • Congenital birth defects

  • Nervous system disorders

Kinds of Nerve Entrapment Syndrome

There are hundreds of nerves composed of billions of nerve cells in the human body and almost any of these may become compressed. Some nerves are at greater risk of entrapment and produce more common nerve compression syndromes in the hand and arm including:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome — this condition is caused by the compression of the median nerve as it travels through carpal tunnel of the wrist. Pain may occur up the arm as well as numbness and weakness in the hand.

  • Cubital tunnel syndrome — compression of the ulnar nerve at the cubital tunnel in the elbow is often a result of repeated or ongoing strain. Symptoms like pain, numbness and weakness in the fingers can be remedied with medication, activity modification, exercise, or surgery.

  • Radial tunnel syndrome — this condition involves entrapment of the radial nerve in the upper arm.

Common Symptoms of Nerve Entrapment Syndrome

  • Swelling and redness

  • Pain

  • Numbness

  • Tingling

  • Inhibited motion

  • Muscle weakness

Treatment for Nerve Entrapment Syndrome

  • Rest — because so many nerve compression syndromes are related to repeated movements, one of the first treatment options is inactivity. This may require a splint or brace to immobilize an affected area.

  • Posture adjustment — if the nerve compression condition is the result of poor positioning, you may need to retrain your posture or other body positioning to put less strain on the problematic nerve.

  • Physical therapy — this is a very common treatment option because it strengthens and stretches muscles in the problem area which can reduce pressure. Treatments like manual manipulation may also erode scar tissue which may be causing the nerve compression.

  • Exercise — many kinds of exercise, including yoga that emphasize gentle stretching can help relieve pressure on nerves. If the condition is related to body weight, physical activity can also help maintain a healthy weight.

  • Bracing — many people with nerve compression issues find that a brace or splint can help ease pain by preventing a stressful position. These may be worn during the day, but, in some cases, it may be necessary to wear them while sleeping.

  • Elevated limbs — swelling is a common issue with nerve compression, so one simple solution is to raise the problematic area above the trunk of your body. If possible, place your limb at a 45-degree incline using pillows.

  • Heat and ice — icing a nerve compression may bring down swelling and numb the pain. Alternating with heat is quite effective as it will promote blood circulation and healing. Do not apply heat or ice for more than 20-minute periods.

  • Medications — non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or naproxen can reduce swelling and pain. Some cases may warrant more powerful corticosteroids to bring down inflammation and pain.

  • Peripheral nerve stimulation — this procedure places an electrical stimulator near the peripheral nerve. The device produces a weak current that stimulates the peripheral nerve and blocks pain impulses to the brain.

  • Surgery — if your condition does not respond to more conservative therapies then you may be a candidate for a surgical procedure. The exact nature of the procedure will depend on the type of nerve compression you are suffering from. In some cases, it may involve removal of the impinging tissue, while in others, it may require damaging the nerve to provide symptom relief.

If you are experiencing any symptoms of nerve entrapment, make an appointment today.


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