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When to Call a Doctor for a Pinched Nerve

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 sudden pain in your left arm, it may be a sign of a heart attack—and warrants a call to 9-1-1 or a trip to the emergency room.)
  • you experience profound numbness or loss of sensation. (This could also be a sign of a stroke; another example of a symptom possibly requiriring urgent medical attention.)
  • 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: 11/17/14
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