What is a pinched nerve?

Neck pain that may radiate into the shoulder and arm is sometimes referred to as a “pinched” nerve, but the medical term for this condition is “cervical radiculopathy.” It’s used to describe a type of damage or injury to a nerve or set of nerves.

The majority of patients with cervical radiculopathy get better with time and never need surgery, or even any treatment at all.

There are several surgical procedures for radiculopathy. The procedure that is right for you will depend on many factors—most importantly, the type of problem you have.

Source: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

Learn more about brain and spine neurological conditions at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Where do pinched nerves occur in the body?

Pinched nerves can happen in a number of locations in the body. Common areas include:

  • Neck
  • Shoulder
  • Back
  • Upper chest
  • Arm/elbow
  • Wrist/hand

What causes a pinched nerve?

Cervical radiculopathy, or a pinched nerve, is often caused by an injury near the root of a spinal nerve. This can happen from compression, constriction or stretching a certain way.

Pinched nerve symptoms

Pain from a pinched nerve typically includes one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Numbness
  • “Pins and needles” feeling
  • Burning sensations
  • Feeling of weakness with some activities
  • Pain radiating outward from the injured area
  • Worsened pain with some movements, such as turning the head, or extending or straining the neck

These symptoms are often made better by placing the hand on the head and stretching the shoulder.

Diagnosing pinched nerves

A doctor typically can diagnose cervical radiculopathy with a physical examination. However, early diagnosis is important so that further damage or complications can be prevented.

Pinched nerve treatment

Some patients will have the pain go away quickly over days to weeks, while others take longer. It’s also not uncommon for cervical radiculopathy to come back sometime in the future.

Some patients do develop persistent symptoms and require evaluation and treatment for pain or weakness.

Most pinched nerves or cervical radiculopathy can improve with rest for the affected area. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids may also be recommended to alleviate pain.

Physical therapy can be useful, and splints or collars may be used to help relieve symptoms.

In severe cases, surgery may be needed.

Can a pinched nerve go away on its own?

The symptoms of most pinched nerves will gradually go away with time (typically four to six weeks).

To care for yourself at home, follow your doctor’s advice for rest, level of activity, ways to protect the injury location and stretching. Be careful, too, to use any prescription medication for pain exactly as it’s prescribed. If your doctor didn’t prescribe you a pain medication, ask them if you can take an over-the-counter medicine to help.

You can also try ice or heat to help reduce pain. Ice, a cold pack, a warm cloth or a heating pad on a low setting can be placed on the affected area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Be sure to put a thin cloth between an ice pack or heating pad and your skin.

Avoid spending too long in one position; take short breaks to stretch, move around and change positions.

Why choose Ohio State for pinched nerve treatment?

  • You’ll have the insights and expertise of an entire clinical team available to diagnose the source of your pain and help you achieve the highest level of function possible with the least-invasive treatment.
  • Our fellowship-trained surgeons perform more complex spine surgeries than any other medical center in central Ohio.
  • Our physical therapists specialize in spine disorders and injuries to restore you to maximum function.
  • We’re developing unique programs to analyze how activities and movements can put stress on the spine. With our biomechanical testing (study of the action of external and internal forces on the body), we can predict when a job or other activity could injure your spine.
  • You have the opportunity to participate in groundbreaking research and clinical trials through our associations with national and international spine organizations.
  • Through the Ohio State Spine Care registry, we track our patients’ outcomes, including physical function and quality of life, and compare these to national and international results to help us select the most effective treatment methods.


Ohio State conducts innovative research in the laboratory, as well as through clinical trials.

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Areas of focus include:

Biomechanical Testing: We are doing biomechanical testing to assess the spine before and after surgery. A specialized vest helps us assess your spinal movement and measure the effectiveness of surgery. It ultimately may provide valuable information about which treatment methods will best increase mobility and function of the spine.

Back Pain Consortium: We are members of the International Consortium for Health Outcomes Measurement (ICHOM). Membership in this elite organization allows us to engage with other top U.S. medical centers in global research studies on back pain. As we measure our results against established international standards, we share best practices and elevate our standard of care.

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Additional Information

Please obtain a physician referral before scheduling with our Spine Center and request previous imaging studies (e.g., MRI, CT, X-ray) on a CD from the place where your tests were performed. Please bring to your appointment these and other test results related to your back (e.g., EMGs, bone density reports, ultrasound reports) from your doctor(s).

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