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When to Call a Doctor for a Pinched Nerve

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A pinched nerve—the layman's term for what doctors call a "compressed nerve"—can be very painful. There are self-care options, such as heat/ice, massage, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. If your pain has just started or if it isn't too severe, you can try these. And rest assured: Most cases of pinched nerves go away on their own.

However, there comes a point when you should seek medical attention for your back pain or neck pain caused by a pinched nerve. Watch out for these severe symptoms.

Call a doctor if:

  • you have persistent pain. If your pain from what you think is a pinched nerve lasts more than a couple of days, you should seek medical attention.
  • your pain is getting worse, despite trying the self-care treatment options mentioned above.
  • you have a sudden onset of "acute focal weakness." That's doctor-speak for unexpected weakness or pain in a specific area. For example, if your whole right leg becomes unable to carry your weight, that's acute focal weakness.

    (We should point out, though, that if you have a sudden pain in your left arm, it may be a sign of a heart attack—another reason to get into the doctor.)
  • you experience profound numbness or loss of sensation. (This could also be a sign of a stroke, so definitely go to the doctor.)
  • you lose bowel or bladder control.

Pay attention to your body and pain. If any of your symptoms concern you, call your doctor.

Updated on: 02/13/13
Jason M. Highsmith, MD
This article was reviewed by Jason M. Highsmith, MD.