ON MENTAL ILLNESS: FYI: My Pinched Nerve Episode

Jack Bragen
Friday April 21, 2017 - 10:48:00 AM

This week's column recounts my episode with a pinched nerve, and how I discovered that it was probably caused by an antipsychotic medication.

Risperdal is one of the first, if not the first of what are now called, "second-generation antipsychotics." In the past they were dubbed, "atypical antipsychotics" because of the mistaken belief that they didn't do the absurdly bad things to the human body that older medications do.

Actually, I think Clozapine was the first. Clozapine is an incredibly powerful antipsychotic that causes agranulocytosis in about one percent of the people taking it. This is the loss of white blood cells that are responsible for our immunity to diseases and infections. Regular blood tests are required with Clozapine because of that. However, I digress...

It wasn't until the newer medications had been around for a while, that it became known that these medications in fact do the same horrible things to the human body as the old meds, and worse.  

Because of the severity of my psychotic problems, for the past fifteen years or more I have been taking the maximum of two different antipsychotics. For a long time, one of these was Risperdal, which is the trade name for Risperidone.  

Anyway, several years back I had unexplainable, severe pain in my entire right arm. It would not respond to over-the-counter pain relievers, such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen. At some point I guessed that I had a pinched nerve. I saw a doctor and was put on a muscle relaxant. This was fairly sedating, especially in combination with my other medications. I would be flat on my back for a large part of the day, due to a combination of pain, which wasn't entirely gone, and sedation.  

After several weeks of this, I somehow guessed that it could have been the Risperdal causing the pinched nerve. I asked my psychiatrist to switch me to something else. And that took care of the problem.  

Atypical, or "second generation" antipsychotics are usually more powerful compared to the older medications, and when taking them, you are subject to the same horrific side effects. Muscle tension is not an unusual side effect. Muscle tension of the muscles that hook into the spine can cause a pinched nerve. A pinched nerve could cause a great deal of pain, and/or it could cause other problems.  

I was fortunate that I didn't go after a stronger pain reliever, even though the pain was very intense in my arm. A pain reliever doesn't address the problem of a pinched nerve, although it might make a person so drugged out that he or she no longer cares if their body is hurting.  

Switching to a different antipsychotic was good enough to solve the problem, for me, at the time. It was not necessary to quit all antipsychotics.  

The above is informational only. And, as always, you should consult with a treatment professional, such as your psychiatrist, if you have questions. I am not an MD, or a PhD, and I do not have a license to dispense advice to anyone.  

Jack Bragen is author of "Schizophrenia: My 35 Year Battle," "Instructions for Dealing with Schizophrenia: A Self-Help Manual," and, "Stories to Read at the Kitchen Table at Night."