A pinched nerve usually heals on its own within a few days and may last up to 12 weeks. 1 Dydyk AM, Khan MZ, Singh P. Radicular Back Pain. [Updated 2022 Oct 24]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546593/ , 2 Magnus W, Viswanath O, Viswanathan VK, et al. Cervical Radiculopathy. [Updated 2024 Jan 31]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441828/  Pinched nerves in the neck tend to last longer than pinched nerves in the lower back. 1 Dydyk AM, Khan MZ, Singh P. Radicular Back Pain. [Updated 2022 Oct 24]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546593/ , 2 Magnus W, Viswanath O, Viswanathan VK, et al. Cervical Radiculopathy. [Updated 2024 Jan 31]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441828/

A pinched nerve occurs when a nerve root in your neck or back is inflamed or compressed by a herniated disc, a bone spur, spinal degeneration, or other spinal conditions.

This blog explains how long a pinched nerve lasts and the steps you can take to help improve nerve healing and pain. 

How long does a pinched nerve take to heal?

The exact duration of a pinched nerve in your spine depends on the cause, severity, and location of nerve injury.

  • Around 85% of pinched nerves in the neck heal within 8 to 12 weeks. 2 Magnus W, Viswanath O, Viswanathan VK, et al. Cervical Radiculopathy. [Updated 2024 Jan 31]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441828/
  • About 50% of pinched nerves in the lower back heal spontaneously within 1 to 2 weeks and up to 90% of pinched nerves in the lower back resolve within 6 to 12 weeks. 3 Alexander CE, Varacallo M. Lumbosacral Radiculopathy. [Updated 2023 Aug 4]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430837/

In these cases, nerve healing occurs on its own without any specific treatment. 1 Dydyk AM, Khan MZ, Singh P. Radicular Back Pain. [Updated 2022 Oct 24]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546593/ , 2 Magnus W, Viswanath O, Viswanathan VK, et al. Cervical Radiculopathy. [Updated 2024 Jan 31]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441828/ However, it is recommended to engage in moderate physical activity and avoid prolonged bed rest. 1 Dydyk AM, Khan MZ, Singh P. Radicular Back Pain. [Updated 2022 Oct 24]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546593/

If your nerve pain persists beyond 12 weeks, your symptoms may become chronic, and you will likely require some form of medical treatment to manage the symptoms. 1 Dydyk AM, Khan MZ, Singh P. Radicular Back Pain. [Updated 2022 Oct 24]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546593/

In general, a mildly inflamed nerve root heals faster than a more severely compressed nerve. If a nerve root is persistently compressed, permanent nerve tissue damage and long-term symptoms are possible. 

A pinched nerve may also be referred to as an inflamed nerve, compressed nerve, trapped nerve, or nerve impingement – and these terms may be used interchangeably. 

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Pinched nerve and radicular pain 

In the initial stages of certain spinal conditions such as degenerated discs or herniated discs, inflammatory chemicals are released from the injured tissues, which irritate the nerve root and trigger pain signals. 

If you have a pinched nerve due to inflammation, you will feel a sharp, stabbing, or burning pain that radiates into your arm or leg based on the location of the nerve. The medical term for this condition is radicular pain and when it occurs in the leg, it’s commonly called sciatica.

Read more about Sciatica Symptoms and Sciatica Causes

Pinched nerve and radiculopathy 

If a nerve root in your spine becomes mechanically trapped or compressed by a nearby spinal structure, such as a bulging disc, bone spur, or pulled muscle, its ability to transmit sensory and motor signals gets interrupted. 

In these cases, the pinched nerve root causes neurological deficits, such as numbness or weakness, and the clinical description is called radiculopathy. Cervical radiculopathy occurs when a nerve root in the neck is pinched, causing numbness, tingling, or weakness in the arm, whereas lumbar radiculopathy occurs when a nerve in the lower back is pinched and causes numbness, tingling, or weakness in the leg. 

Pinched nerve in the neck

Nerve inflammation or compression in the neck (cervical spine) often occurs in the C5-C6 and C6-C7 spinal motion segments, causing impingement of the C6 or C7 nerve roots.

The most common cause for a pinched nerve in the neck is a cervical herniated disc. 4 Sarwan G, De Jesus O. Electrodiagnostic Evaluation of Cervical Radiculopathy. [Updated 2023 Aug 23]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK563152/

Pinched nerve in the lower back

Nerve inflammation or compression in the lower back (lumbar spine) usually occurs at the L4-L5 or L5-S1 spinal motion segments, causing impingement of the L4, L5, or S1 nerve roots. 5 Donnally III CJ, Hanna A, Varacallo M. Lumbar Degenerative Disk Disease. [Updated 2023 Aug 4]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448134/

The most common causes for a pinched nerve in the lower back are lumbar herniated discs and spondylosis (spinal degeneration). 1 Dydyk AM, Khan MZ, Singh P. Radicular Back Pain. [Updated 2022 Oct 24]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546593/

Pinched nerve in the upper back

It is rare for a pinched nerve to occur in the thoracic spine (upper back). 

If it occurs, the symptoms subside within a few weeks or several months and usually require some form of medical treatment to aid in recovery. 6 Dydyk AM, Ngnitewe Massa R, Mesfin FB. Disc Herniation. [Updated 2023 Jan 16]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441822/ , 7 Fogwe DT, Petrone B, Mesfin FB. Thoracic Discogenic Syndrome. [Updated 2022 Aug 22]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470388/

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What causes pain from a pinched nerve to flare up

Pain from a pinched or trapped nerve may worsen if you perform activities that aggravate the underlying cause. For example, bending forward worsens nerve pain from a herniated disc, and bending backward worsens nerve pain from spinal stenosis. 

Additionally, everyday activities such as standing, sitting, or walking aggravate pinched nerve pain if a supported spinal posture is not maintained.

See Everyday Activities to Avoid with Herniated Disc

Research also suggests that nicotine use (smoking, vaping, chewing tobacco, etc) affects nerve pain and inflammation. Nicotine disrupts the flow of blood and essential nutrients throughout the body and may flare up nerve pain or slow down its healing. 8 Fiani B, Noblett C, Nanney JM, et al. The Impact of "Vaping" Electronic Cigarettes on Spine Health. Cureus. 2020;12(6):e8907. Published 2020 Jun 29. doi:10.7759/cureus.8907 , 9 Khurana VG. Adverse impact of smoking on the spine and spinal surgery. Surg Neurol Int. 2021;12:118. Published 2021 Mar 24. doi:10.25259/SNI_6_2021

5 simple self-care treatments to reduce pinched nerve pain quickly

Try these 5 targeted self-care treatments to immediately and effectively calm the burning pain or numbness caused by pinched nerves in your spine:

  1. Cold therapy: If your pinched nerve is caused due to inflammation, ice or cold therapy may provide immediate relief by calming the inflammation, constricting blood vessels, reducing blood flow, and providing a numbing effect – quickly reducing the pain.
  2. Heat therapy: Nerve impingement pain due to a pulled or spasming muscle feels better when heat therapy is applied to the affected area. Heat dilates blood vessels, increases blood flow, brings in more oxygen and nutrients, and fosters healing in the injured tissue. 
  3. Topical NSAIDs: Topical forms of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as gels (Voltaren Gel) or creams (Aspercreme), are proven to be equally effective as oral tablets or capsules in reducing inflammation and pain. 10 Derry S, Moore RA, Gaskell H, McIntyre M, Wiffen PJ. Topical NSAIDs for acute musculoskeletal pain in adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2015;(6). doi:10.1002/14651858.cd007402.pub3
    This method offers a convenient approach to quickly alleviate nerve pain without encountering the potential side effects associated with oral medications.
  4. Tennis ball massage: Pain from tight muscles and trapped nerves can be relieved with self-massage using a tennis ball.
    For a DIY neck or lower back massage, lie on the floor and place the ball under your neck, lower back, or buttock and gently move around to find a tender area. Once you locate a tender spot, apply light pressure by pressing against the ball. Be sure not to press too hard or roll the ball directly over your spine.
  5. McKenzie method exercises: For many individuals, pain from pinched nerves in the neck or lower back caused by herniated discs may be quickly reduced with McKenzie method exercises.
    This therapy focuses on backward bending (extension) exercises that aim to reduce the mechanical compression on the nerve caused by the disc – providing symptom relief and encouraging healing of the disc. 

When you use heat or cold packs and topical medication, make sure you target the spinal region where the nerve is affected, such as the neck or lower back – to treat the problem at its origin – rather than focusing on the arm or leg where the pain and symptoms may be more prominent.

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What to do if pain from a pinched nerve does not go away

If mild to moderate pain from a pinched nerve does not reduce after a week or so, it is advisable to consult with your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. 

If your pain becomes severe at any point, or you develop new or worsening radiculopathy in the arms or legs, contact your doctor as soon as possible. Delayed treatment increases the risk of complications and long-term nerve damage.

  • 1 Dydyk AM, Khan MZ, Singh P. Radicular Back Pain. [Updated 2022 Oct 24]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546593/
  • 2 Magnus W, Viswanath O, Viswanathan VK, et al. Cervical Radiculopathy. [Updated 2024 Jan 31]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441828/
  • 3 Alexander CE, Varacallo M. Lumbosacral Radiculopathy. [Updated 2023 Aug 4]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430837/
  • 4 Sarwan G, De Jesus O. Electrodiagnostic Evaluation of Cervical Radiculopathy. [Updated 2023 Aug 23]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK563152/
  • 5 Donnally III CJ, Hanna A, Varacallo M. Lumbar Degenerative Disk Disease. [Updated 2023 Aug 4]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448134/
  • 6 Dydyk AM, Ngnitewe Massa R, Mesfin FB. Disc Herniation. [Updated 2023 Jan 16]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441822/
  • 7 Fogwe DT, Petrone B, Mesfin FB. Thoracic Discogenic Syndrome. [Updated 2022 Aug 22]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470388/
  • 8 Fiani B, Noblett C, Nanney JM, et al. The Impact of "Vaping" Electronic Cigarettes on Spine Health. Cureus. 2020;12(6):e8907. Published 2020 Jun 29. doi:10.7759/cureus.8907
  • 9 Khurana VG. Adverse impact of smoking on the spine and spinal surgery. Surg Neurol Int. 2021;12:118. Published 2021 Mar 24. doi:10.25259/SNI_6_2021
  • 10 Derry S, Moore RA, Gaskell H, McIntyre M, Wiffen PJ. Topical NSAIDs for acute musculoskeletal pain in adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2015;(6). doi:10.1002/14651858.cd007402.pub3

Dr. Rob Dickerman is a neurological and spine surgeon at the North Texas Brain and Spine Institute. He has more than 15 years of clinical experience and specializes in spine biomechanics, spinal cord injuries, and brain tumors.

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