How to Strengthen the Upper Body After a Pinched Nerve

Start slow with minimal sets and reps when recovering after a pinched nerve.
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A pinched nerve in your neck can be painful, but your doctor or physical therapist can tell even without reports of pain, numbness or tingling that you have a nerve issue. That's because the pressure interferes with the nerve's normal function, causing upper body weakness on top of the other symptoms. You doctor will have you avoid exercises that aggravate your neck and back for about six weeks. After the six-week rest, it may be two to three weeks longer before he refers you to a physical therapist to help build strength back with exercises for upper body muscle groups.

    Step 1

    Perform back and arm exercises to strengthen your back muscles and biceps. Effective exercises include wall slides, rows and bicep curls. Do two sets of 10 reps of each exercise with weight that is sufficient to cause fatigue by the 15th rep but that is not so heavy that it causes pain.

    Step 2

    Do exercises for your chest, shoulder and triceps muscles to improve the strength in them. These can include military presses, triceps kickbacks and overhead presses, shoulder shrugs, dumbbell chest press and wall pushups. Use an amount of weight that is heavy enough to tire you by the time you get to the 15th rep, but not heavy enough that it's painful. Perform two sets of 10 reps of each exercise.

    Step 3

    Exercise each muscle group twice a week, allowing 48 hours of rest before you work a muscle group again. Rebecca Peterson, a physical therapy assistant with the Hand and Upper Extremities Center in Pocatello, Idaho, offers an example of working your back and biceps on Monday and Thursday, your chest, shoulders and triceps on Tuesday and Friday and taking Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday as rest days.

    Step 4

    Work the two-day split regimen for four to six weeks. Your physical therapist will monitor your progress and determine when you're ready to move past rehabilitation to regular exercise.


    • Sets of 10 reps may be too many for some people, depending on how badly the nerve was affected. Sometimes two sets of five reps are all that a patient can accomplish, but it is enough and an effective place to start after having a pinched nerve.


    • Drinking plenty of water is essential even when you're not recovering from a pinched nerve, but it is all the more important while rebuilding upper body strength. Drink a full glass of water before and after exercising, and keep water or a sports drink handy during your workout. Keeping your muscles hydrated will allow them to remain pliable and keep them from spasming and becoming stiff.


    • Yoga can be beneficial for problems due to a pinched nerve in your neck. It's useful for not only building upper body strength and increasing muscle and joint flexibility but also for improving your posture. This can help you avoid pinched nerves in the first place. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about including yoga as part of your strengthening rehab program.

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