Caused by a variety of spinal conditions, a pinched nerve is when a spinal nerve root is obstructed and/or compressed by spinal abnormalities.
What is a Pinched Nerve?
- A pinched nerve is when a nerve root is compressed, causing pain in the surrounding tissues or radicular (shooting) pain. A variety of spinal conditions may compress against a nerve root, and the best way to relieve a pinched nerve is to treat the patient's spinal condition(s).
- Since a pinched nerve may be caused by many conditions, it occurs in patients of varying age groups and physical activity levels. Treatment depends on the severity of the pinched nerve, the age of the patient, and the pinched nerve's location in the spine.
- The types of pain experienced among patients depend on the patient and the severity and location of the pinched nerve. Most pain is sharp, dull, or throbbing, and can be radicular, in which it radiates down to other areas of the body. Sciatica, or shooting pain in the legs, is commonly experienced among pinched nerves in the lumbar area.
- A pinched nerve is one of the most common causes for acute and chronic back pain.
What causes it?
Many spinal conditions may cause a pinched nerve. Some of the most common ones include a herniated or bulging disc, degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, arthritis of the spine, foraminal stenosis, and bone spurs. These conditions may all compress a nerve root, and may occur in any of the three sections of the spine, such as the cervical (neck area), thoracic (middle back), or lumbar (lower back). However, the lower back is the most common area for a pinched nerve to occur.
A pinched nerve may be the first sign to the patient that he/she has a spinal condition. Sometimes patients may not entirely notice the pain if the pinched nerve is mild. Pain may be acute (come and go quickly), worsen over time, or be chronic (stay for a long time). Pain may be mild or severe, and may be tingling, radiating, shooting, burning, or sharp. Patients with a lumbar pinched nerve may also experience sciatica. Radicular pain, which is pain felt in areas outside of the pinched nerve's area, is another common symptom.
The lumbar region is most susceptible for a pinched nerve because of the amount of strain put on the lower back by daily activities and physical activity. Pinched nerves may also occur in the cervical region, caused by sudden movement or neck strain.
How do you treat it?
Treatment for a pinched nerve depends on several factors: the severity of the compression against the nerve, the patient's physical activity level and age, the type of pain experienced, and the area in which the pinched nerve occurred. Conservative methods of treatment like rest, relaxation, cold and hot compresses, massages, physical therapy, and pain and anti-inflammatory medication is initially prescribed.
If the pinched nerve is suspected to lead to nerve damage, then surgery is recommended as soon as possible. Otherwise, surgery is only recommended if conservative methods are unsuccessful in treating pain.
The procedure to alleviate a pinched nerve is called a discectomy, which is a minimally invasive procedure that removes whatever is compressing against the nerve, easing pain. If you feel you may be a candidate for discectomy, and would like more information, please send us your MRI scan here. We will review it for free.