Chest pain caused by a pinched nerve is a common complaint. A pinched nerve is not usually a life-threatening condition, but it is capable of causing severe chest pain and impairing quality of life.
Pinched Nerves Explained
A pinched nerve occurs when a nerve is compressed by surrounding tissue. Pressure from the surrounding tissue interferes with nerve function and nerve signal transmission, causing pain and other pinched nerve symptoms.
A pinched nerve can affect any part of the body. A pinched nerve causing chest pain usually occurs in the middle or upper spine.
Pinched Nerve Causes
Chest pain caused by a pinched nerve can have a number of causes. A herniated spinal disc often results in a pinched nerve. Muscle spasms and overuse of specific muscle areas may also result in a pinched nerve causing chest pain.
Other medical conditions that cause pinched nerves include
- bone spur formation
- spinal stenosis.
Spinal stenosis is an abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal that compresses spinal nerves and increases the risk of pinched nerve symptoms.
Repetitive jobs, such as assembly line work, are often responsible for pinched nerves. Poor posture and obesity both put pressure on the spinal cord, increasing the risk of a pinched nerve. A family history of pinched nerve symptoms also increases the risk of chest pain caused by a pinched nerve.
Pinched Nerve Symptoms
A pinched nerve causing chest pain produces a sharp pain that can radiate to other parts of the body. Chest pain caused by a pinched nerve is also described as a burning sensation. Chest pain caused by a pinched nerve can worsen during coughing or sneezing.
In addition to chest pain, a number of other pinched nerve symptoms may be present. Numbness or a dulled sensation is often felt in tissue the nerve controls. Pinched nerve symptoms can also cause weakness or twitching in affected muscles.
A so-called pins and needles sensation is one of the commonly described pinched nerve symptoms. Known medically as parathesia, pins and needles is the sensation that occurs when a limb “falls asleep” (a sensation that is caused by temporary compression of a nerve, usually due to body position).
Chest pain and other pinched nerve symptoms often worsen when a person is trying to sleep.
Pinched Nerves and Medical Emergencies
While painful, chest pain caused by a pinched nerve is usually not serious. If, however, the nerve affects the heart or lungs, serious health complications can occur.
Serious conditions, such as a heart attack, can mimic pinched nerve symptoms, so any chest pain that persists for longer than five minutes should receive medical attention. This is especially true if chest pain is accompanied by any of the following:
- nausea and vomiting
- pain that radiates down on or both arms
- shortness of breath.
Pinched Nerve Treatment
Rest is the most frequently prescribed pinched nerve treatment and is often coupled with non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to relieve chest pain and muscle inflammation.
For severe chest pain, pinched nerve treatment may include corticosteroid injections into the nerve site to reduce inflammation and pain.
Physical therapy may be used during pinched nerve treatment to strengthen the muscles surrounding the compressed nerve.
Surgery is the last recourse of pinched nerve treatment. If pinched nerve symptoms persist for weeks or months and do not respond to less invasive pinched nerve treatment, surgery can relieve the pressure on the nerve.
Pinched Nerve Prevention
Once you’ve suffered through chest pain caused by a pinched nerve, you don’t wish to repeat the experience. Pinched nerve prevention techniques include maintaining a healthy weight and practicing good posture. Repetitive activities that can cause a pinched nerve should be minimized or avoided.
Stretching, strength training and flexibility exercises also help prevent pinched nerve symptoms.
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (29 January 2007). Pinched Nerve. Retrieved November 15, 2007, from the Mayo Web site: www.mayoclinic.com/health/pinched-nerve/DS00879.
National Library of Medicine. (updated 31 May 2006). Spinal Stenosis. Retrieved November 15, 2007, from the MedlinePlus Web site: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000441.htm.