A pinched nerve refers to a nerve that has become compressed as a result of pressure from a surrounding structure like a herniated disc or bone spur, or from swollen and inflamed tissue surrounding the nerve. Sometimes, nerves in the spine can become “pinched” or compressed as a result of changes due to arthritis or spinal stenosis, a condition that causes the spine to become narrow, or when one disc slips over another due to a condition called spondylolisthesis.
Pinched nerves can occur anywhere in the body, but very often, they occur in the back or spine in the areas where nerves exit the spinal column. All the nerves in the torso and limbs travel from the brain through the spinal column before exiting and traveling to other areas. Nerves exit the spine at specific locations between the vertebrae and the discs that separate them. Often, these discs shift out of alignment, resulting in pressure on the nerves and both local and radiating pain and numbness. When pinched nerves occur in the neck, they can cause symptoms in the neck, arms, hands, and upper back. Pinched nerves in the middle and lower back can cause symptoms in the back, buttocks, legs, and feet. The location of the symptoms will depend on which nerve is compressed or pinched.
Pinched nerves typically cause symptoms like pain, numbness, and burning or tingling sensations at the site of injury and radiating along the nerve pathway. Without treatment, limb weakness eventually can occur.
The treatment of a pinched nerve begins with conservative measures to help decrease inflammation that may be irritating the nerve. Treatment options typically include rest, physical therapy and injections of special medicines at the site of the nerve compression. These medications relieve painful symptoms while also helping to reduce swelling. When conservative approaches are not enough to relieve symptoms, surgery may be needed to remove bone spurs, enlarge the openings where the nerve exits the spine, or address other issues.
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