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Is Exercise Your Fix to a Pinched Nerve?

Is Exercise Your Fix to a Pinched Nerve?

Dr. Michael Derry, DPT, PT, OCS Jacksonville, Florida
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Exercise is a powerful tool to fix pinched nerves. When you look at the research, exercise and movement always appears to be helpful. That said, it may not help everyone. I have had great success when treating pinched nerves but that only comes with very specific dosage. It's not what you do, it's how you do it.

Can Exercise Cure a Pinched Nerve?

Curing a pinch nerve can be as simple as doing the right exercises as the right time.

Yes, I have seen many clients report 100% improvement with exercise. I often prescribe nerve glides to assist not only moving the nerve but giving it an environment in which to heal. Here Is the deal. To reduce nerve pain you must follow these rules:

  1. Stay consistent - It often takes doing these every day for a month to notice a difference
  2. Listen to your body - They should never make you feel worse
  3. Do enough reps - 20-30 reps each leg
  4. Combine with walking program 20-30 minutes a day, everyday


Nerve Glide Laying Down Starting Position

Start with laying on your back and support the leg in which you have discomfort. Make sure your comfortable and then start to straighten the leg.

Nerve glide Laying Down End Position

As you kick you leg up, pull your toes back. If you feel burning or pain while pulling your toes back, that can be very normal. I would suggest limiting the range so that you feel it, but not too much. As you continue to do more reps, it will loosen up. Repeat this for 20-30 reps on each side.

How do I Unpinch a nerve?

Unpinching a nerve requires a reduction in inflammation and movement.

Tips to unpinch a Nerve
Tips to Unpinch a Nerve

Most pinched nerves, aren't really pinched. Don't think of it as the nerve being pressed upon. That can seems scary. My clients will often express fear that the pinching requires a "fix" such as surgery, and that isn't the case. Even if your MRI shows stenosis or pinching, don't fear, there is hope! 

What we see is that the nerve will get angry (inflamed). Most commonly my patients have pressure on the nerve from disc herniations or stenosis. Both of these cause inflammation near the nerve and it causes the nerve to become sensitive. Sensitive to movement and that sensitivity can build if we are not active. My two tips to unpinch a nerve include

  1. Trust time and the process - These things do get better over time and if you team up with a physical therapist, your recovery will go more smoothly.
  2. Trust your body - If walking hurts then start with exercises laying down or sitting.

Can You Stretch Out a Pinched Nerve?

You can stretch a pinched nerve. In fact, the evidence says we should do it! 

Nerves are made to be stretched, pulled, and even compressed. Like everything else when it comes to our body, it's about how you stretch, what you stretch, and how much you do it. That's were the skill of physical therapist can come in handy. When you combine evidence based stretches with learning your body, the outcomes are great.

My favorite nerve stretch is the downward dog with the nerve glide. Downward dog is a great position for a nerve glide. It helps to move the nerve and provides an environment for healing. Plus you can do both sides quickly! 

Downward dog exercise with emphasis on nerve glide
Downward dog with nerve glide

In conclusion, exercise can be an effective method for alleviating pinched nerve pain, but it requires a precise approach tailored to individual needs. Consistency, proper technique, and listening to your body's signals are crucial to seeing improvements. While not everyone may experience complete relief, many find significant benefits through targeted exercises like nerve glides and stretching routines. Trust in the process and collaboration with a physical therapist can enhance recovery and provide a supportive environment for healing.


Xu Q, Yaksh TL. A brief comparison of the pathophysiology of inflammatory versus neuropathic pain. Curr Opin Anaesthesiol. 2011 Aug;24(4):400-7. doi: 10.1097/ACO.0b013e32834871df. PMID: 21659872; PMCID: PMC3290396.

Dr. Michael Derry is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and board certified in orthopedics. He is very passionate about treating lower back pain and helping people build their resiliency. He has spent time assisting at universities as well as managing large clinics before starting his own practice in Jacksonville, FL.

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