What Is a Pinched Nerve?

A pinched nerve refers to the uncomfortable sensation of numbness or pain that develops when increased pressure irritates or damages a peripheral nerve. Almost any nerve is susceptible to this condition, but pinched nerves are typically associated with neck injuries or back pain, according to MedicineNet.

When pressure is placed on a peripheral nerve, the nerve's protective covering or the nerve itself is irritated. When this occurs, the nerve is no longer able to correctly conduct sensory impulses to the brain, and a sense of numbness develops, explains MedicineNet. When the nerve is compressed for a short length of time, it can usually fully repair itself within a matter of weeks or months. If the nerve was compressed for a long time, the injury to the nerve may be permanent.

The pressure that causes pinched nerves can develop due to a variety of reasons, including poor posture, leaning on elbows or crossing the legs. Weight gain, pregnancy, disk herniation, arthritis and repetitive activities such as typing can also cause pinched nerves, notes MedicineNet. According to WebMD, nerve compression in one part of the body can cause discomfort in other areas of the body as well. For example, compression of the nerve exiting the spine may cause pain in the back, neck and shoulders due to the changes developing in the spine's disks and bones.