Have you ever experienced an electrical shock like pain down your arm or leg? Or have you ever awoke from a nights sleep with numbness or tingling in your arm or leg? These are common symptoms of a “pinched nerve”. A “pinched nerve” is a description for a number of injuries or conditions that can affect nerves in the neck, low back or within the upper or lower extremities. Common names include sciatica for pain in the legs, cervical or lumbar radiculopathy in nerves exiting the neck (cervical) or lumbar (low back) spine. Nerves can also be pinched in the upper extremity as in carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrist or cubital tunnel syndrome in the elbow. A “pinched nerve” is the term for pain or impaired function of a nerve that is under pressure. It happens to nerves that control muscle movements or relay sensations to the brain.
Initial symptoms of a :pinched nerve” may include numbness, tingling, a burning sensation or sharp electrical pains down the legs from the low back or from the neck into the shoulders, arms and fingers.
Commonly, the pains and or abnormal sensations are experienced distant from the point of pressure. For example, a “pinched nerve” in the neck may cause pain in the wrist or hand as the only symptom. When the nerve is being damaged from constant pressure, pain and numbness may increase and weakness can develop in those muscles supplied by those particular nerves. There may be a loss of deep tendon reflexes, movement of a particular body part, sensation in the affected area, and shrinking (atrophy) of the affected muscles.
Nerves are extensions from the brain that reach out into the arms or legs and supply the electrical input and output to the muscles or skin. Nerves are similar to insulated electrical wires that transfer the electrical impulses from the brain to the muscles (motor nerves) or skin (sensory nerves). A nerve is a cell that is microscopic in size, and its fibers may run several feet in length toward its destination.
If a nerve gets “pinched” the flow up and down the inside of the nerve is reduced or blocked and the nutrients stop flowing. Eventually the membrane starts to loose its healthy ability to transmit the tiny electrical charges and the nerve fiber may eventually die. When enough fibers stop working, the skin may feel numbness or a muscle may not contract.
Common causes of “pinched nerves” in the cervical or lumbar spine include herniated discs, bulging discs or degenerative disc disease. Other causes include compression of a nerve in the arm, at the elbow or wrist, from repetitive movements, nerve instability or subluxation, maintaining a prolonged position or posture, arthritis, bone spurs, or a tumor or mass.
The treatment of a “pinched nerve” will be dependent on which nerve is compressed or damaged and how that nerve is actually being damaged. Treatment can be a simple as changing the position of the body part where the nerve is being pinched or as complicated as surgically decompressing the nerve (relieving the mechanical pressure). When you suspect a nerve is injured or possibly being compressed or “pinched”, it is important that you seek a medical evaluation as soon as possible to determine the cause of the symptoms before permanent nerve injury occurs.
Drummers are not immune to nerve injuries. In fact, it has been my unfortunate experience to have to treat an ever-increasing number of drummers with nerve related injuries. It is imperative that we take proper precautions such as warming up and cooling down before and after playing as well as maintaining an ergonomic set-up of our drum kits. These simple procedures can help to prevent these injuries from developing.
Dr. Luga Podesta practices orthopedic sports medicine in Thousand Oaks, California, specializing in the non-surgical treatment of the upper extremity, knee and spine. He is a sports medicine consultant and team physician for the Los Angeles Angels, serves as head team physician for the Los Angeles Avengers of the Arena Football League, Los Angeles Riptide of Major League Lacrosse, ans is an avid drummer. Dr. Podesta can be reaches at firstname.lastname@example.org.