Pinched nerves are a common cause of neck or back pain. Nerves can become compressed, irritated, or inflamed and this leads to a variety of uncomfortable and sometimes debilitating symptoms. Pinched nerves can happen when there is a herniated disc, bone spurs, spinal stenosis, muscle tightness, or repetitive motion injuries. The specific symptoms and their severity can vary depending on the location and degree of nerve compression. Common signs and symptoms associated with pinched nerve pain may include:
- Pain – Pinched nerves often cause pain at the site of compression. The pain can range from a dull ache to a sharp, shooting pain. It may also radiate along the path of the affected nerve, spreading to other parts of the body.
- Numbness and Tingling – Many people with pinched nerves experience numbness and tingling sensations in the area served by the affected nerve. This can manifest as a “pins and needles” feeling or a loss of sensation.
- Muscle Weakness – Compression of a nerve can lead to muscle weakness in the affected area. This weakness may make it challenging to perform tasks that require strength and coordination.
- Radiating Pain – Depending on the location of the pinched nerve, the pain may radiate or travel along the nerve pathway. For example, a pinched nerve in the neck (cervical spine) can cause pain that radiates down the arm, while a pinched nerve in the lower back (lumbar spine) can lead to pain that radiates down the leg.
- Burning or Electrical Sensations – Some people describe the pain associated with a pinched nerve as a burning or electrical sensation.
- Pain Aggravated by Movement – Certain movements or positions may exacerbate the pain from a pinched nerve. For instance, bending the neck or back or even trying to stand up straight.
- Loss of Reflexes – In some cases, reflexes controlled by the affected nerve may be diminished or absent.
- Muscle Spasms – Pinched nerves can trigger muscle spasms in the affected area.
The treatment of pinched nerve pain depends on the underlying cause and the severity of symptoms. Pinched nerve pain can last a few days, a week or even longer. Once the pressure on the nerve or the inflammation near the nerve is reduced the nerve function returns to normal. If you have radiating pain, weakness, or numbness and tingling, it is important to seek medical treatment from a spine specialist right away so that you can get a proper diagnosis. In some cases, if you wait too long to get treatment, permanent nerve damage can occur. First line treatments for a pinched nerve are:
- Rest – Rest the affected area and avoid movement or activities that make the pain worse.
- Physical Therapy – exercises and treatments can help alleviate pain, improve mobility, and strengthen the muscles around the affected nerve.
- Pain Medications – Over the counter or prescription pain medications may be recommended to manage pain and inflammation.
- Heat or Cold Therapy – Using hot and cold packs can help reduce pain and inflammation.
- Epidural Steroid Injections – In some cases, steroid injections area around the pinched nerve can provide temporary relief.
- Lifestyle Modifications – Making ergonomic changes, such as adjusting your chair and workstation or using proper body mechanics to lift, and bend can help prevent future pinched nerves.
In more severe cases or when conservative treatments do not provide relief, surgical intervention may be necessary to decompress the nerve and alleviate symptoms. If you suspect you have a pinched nerve or are experiencing symptoms of nerve compression, it’s important to seek evaluation and treatment from a specialist. They can diagnose the underlying cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan to address your specific condition. Today, there are minimally invasive and ultra-minimally invasive surgical techniques that offer patients a quick recovery.
Dr. Jason Alder is a Mayo-clinic trained spine surgeon at OrthoTexas. He specializes in the newest, most advanced, and least invasive surgical techniques.