Pinched Nerve in the Neck: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

A pinched nerve in the neck happens when a vertebra or disc in the upper part of your spine is damaged. This damage can happen because of an injury. Or it can just happen with age.

The changes caused by the damage may put pressure on a nearby nerve root, pinching it. This causes symptoms such as sharp pain in your neck, shoulder, arm, or back. You may also have tingling or numbness. Sometimes it makes your arm weaker. The symptoms are usually worse when you turn your head or strain your neck.

For many people, the symptoms get better over time and finally go away.

Early treatment usually includes medicines for pain and swelling. Sometimes physiotherapy and special exercises may help.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • Try using a heating pad on a low or medium setting for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 or 3 hours. Try a warm shower in place of one session with the heating pad. You can also buy single-use heat wraps that last up to 8 hours.
  • You can also try an ice pack for 10 to 15 minutes every 2 to 3 hours. There isn't strong evidence that either heat or ice will help. But you can try them to see if they help you.
  • Don't spend too long in one position. Take short breaks to move around and change positions.
  • Wear a seat belt and shoulder harness when you are in a car.
  • Sleep with a pillow under your head and neck that keeps your neck straight.
  • If you were given a neck brace (cervical collar) to limit neck motion, wear it as instructed for as many days as your doctor tells you to. Do not wear it longer than you were told to. Wearing a brace for too long can lead to neck stiffness and can weaken the neck muscles.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions for gentle neck-stretching exercises.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking can slow healing of your discs. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Avoid strenuous work or exercise until your doctor says it is okay.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You are unable to move an arm or a leg at all.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse symptoms in your arms, legs, chest, belly, or buttocks. Symptoms may include:
    • Numbness or tingling.
    • Weakness.
    • Pain.
  • You lose bladder or bowel control.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You are not getting better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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