What is Nerve Compression Syndrome?
Nerve compression syndrome is probably the most common type of nerve injury that occurs in the human body. Nerve compression simply means a situation arises where external pressure is being placed on the nerve. This involves tissue around the nerve applying pressure to the nerve itself. This typically happens either because the nerve swells or the tissue surrounding the nerve contracts or shrinks. Sometime both situations occur at once.
In diabetes, for example, peripheral nerves throughout the body may start to swell and increase in size slowly over time. Keeping in mind that there are many points of anatomical narrowing, or tight spaces, that nerve fibers must pass through on their journey from the spinal cord down to the foot for instance, if the nerves start to increase in size, eventually a situation will arise where nerve compressions may develop at multiple points along multiple nerves resulting in a situation where the whole limb may become weak, numb, and painful.
In other cases, multiple nerve compressions can develop secondary to significant trauma, or even surgery, to a specific part of the body, a leg for instance.
Sometimes, only a single nerve compression may develop. Isolated carpal tunnel syndrome in one hand would be an example of this scenario.
More complex nerve compression syndromes involving multiple nerves at multiple levels can be very difficult for doctors to recognize or diagnose. These types of problems will often defeat EMG and nerve conduction velocity testing. Generally speaking, doctors have been trained to think that only one, or at most two, nerve compression sites can exist together at the same time. This makes them susceptible to the old adage that, “the eye cannot see what the mind does not know,” making it virtually impossible for them to identify patients with these types of peripheral nerve injuries.
Examples of common nerve compression syndromes include:
- Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (neurogenic)
- Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
- Radial Tunnel Syndrome
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Guyon’s Canal Syndrome
- Piriformis Syndrome
- Meralgia Paresthetica
- Common Peroneal Nerve Compression (Foot Drop)
- Soleus Syndrome
- Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome
- Morton’s Neuroma (this is a misnomer – the injury mechanism in most cases is a compression of the common plantar digital nerve rather than a true neuroma)
* There are many other locations throughout the body where nerve compressions can develop.
Whether these nerve compressions occur individually or several together at the same time, surgical intervention to relieve the pressure on the nerve is very effective at permanently relieving the pain and numbness associated with these conditions.
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