2 Your Health: The Story of the Rubber Band and a Pinched Nerve

Craig Brue, D.C., Chiropractor

Whenever I give a lecture about back and neck pain, I usually use a rubber band to demonstrate the effects of a pinched nerve. If you tightly wrap a rubber band around the base of your finger, it won’t be long before your finger begins to throb, ache, swell, and turn a reddish blue.

How do you get rid of the pain from your pinched, irritated finger? Please stay with me, because the answer isn’t that simple. Here are your choices for a swollen, painful finger:

1. Put your finger in a bucket of ice.

Will that relieve the pain? The answer is yes, because ice reduces swelling. However, when the finger is removed from the ice bucket, the pain will return, because your finger is still pinched.

2. Exercise the finger.

Will that help? Perhaps you will feel a little better, because movement may significantly increase circulation. However, when you stop exercising, the pain will return, because your finger is still pinched.

3. Try pain medication.

Will that help? Anti-inflammatories reduce swelling, but the pain medications will soon wear off. Stronger medications like oxycodone and muscle relaxants may help a little longer, but these drugs have significant side effects. Pain medication treats the symptoms of pain and swelling but not the cause of the problem.

4. Have cortisone shots in your finger.

Will that help? Cortisone, a powerful anti-inflammatory medication, might help for a short time, but when the shot wears off, the finger will still be swollen and painful.

5. Have your finger surgically removed. Will that help? The answer is yes. The finger pain will immediately go away, but the finger will be gone, too. Surgery for a swollen finger is a little like killing a fly with a shotgun.

6. Have you figured out the simplest solution for the swollen, painful finger?

The best solution is to adjust the rubber band’s tightness. When you loosen the tension of the rubber band around the finger, the inflammation and pain will quickly go away, because you are removing the cause of the pinch.

What can we learn from this story? Are you experiencing neck or back pain? Back and neck pain is usually related to pinched and irritated nerves. Physical therapy (ice, heat, and exercise) will not “unpinch” a nerve. Anti-inflammatory medication and shots treat the symptoms of pain and swelling without addressing the cause of the pain. Surgery for back pain may be an option, but this solution should be reserved for the most severe spinal conditions.

My advice: A chiropractic spinal adjustment works like adjusting the tension of the rubber band around the swollen finger. Spinal adjustments take the pressure off those pinched and irritated nerves. Find a great chiropractor to join your health team. You have nothing to lose except the pain you are experiencing.

Dr. Craig Brue is an author, lecturer, and chiropractic provider in SaddleBrooke, Ariz.