WHAT’S A PINCHED SPINAL NERVE?

It’s such a common statement.  But, while many patients know they have a pinched spinal nerve, they don’t know exactly what it is or how to treat it. Taking this into account, we’ve created this post to educate and inform patients who have (or think they have) a pinched nerve.

Let’s jump right in:

Anatomy: The Spinal Column, Canal, and Cord

The spine has four regions: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and pelvic.

pinched spinal nerve, What’s a Pinched Spinal Nerve and How’s It Treated?

Illustration 1– The four regions of the spine

The bones (vertebrae) of each region stack on top of one another to form the spinal canal, which creates a tunnel for the spinal cord to run from the brain to the lower back.

pinched spinal nerve, What’s a Pinched Spinal Nerve and How’s It Treated?

Each vertebra has a small hole that allows the spinal cord to branch out and innervate different muscles and organs.

pinched spinal nerve, What’s a Pinched Spinal Nerve and How’s It Treated?

Illustration 2– Nerves branch from the spinal cord

When a vertebra or spinal disc is damaged or diseased, it can pinch one of the nerves and cause a host of unpleasant symptoms.

Causes of a Pinched Nerve

Degenerative disc disease, bone spurs, and herniated discs can alter the vertebral structure and pinch a nerve. The most common causes of the above mentioned are:

  • Age
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Sports accidents
  • Whiplash injuries
  • Heavy lifting injuries
  • Arthritis

Once a nerve is pinched, symptoms develop and need to be treated.

Symptoms of a Pinched Spinal Nerve

Symptoms occur in the back and/or the area of the body that the pinched nerve innervates. Some of the most common symptoms are:

  • Pain
  • Weakness
  • Numbness
  • Tingling

All of these symptoms can cause day-to-day problems that will persist when left untreated.

Treatments for a Pinched Spinal Nerve

Any, all, or any combination of the following non-surgical treatment options can be used to decrease or eliminate symptoms:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)
  • Physical therapy
  • Activity modification
  • Steroid injections
  • Pain medications

If non-surgical treatment fails, the nerve needs to be decompressed via surgery.

The type of surgery depends on the severity of nerve impingement and spinal column damage. Minimally invasive spine surgery (MISS) treats moderate cases. Invasive surgery is used for severe cases. Both are effective and can result in a full recovery.

The Role of a Spine Specialist

The first step in treating a pinched nerve is obtaining a detailed history. The second is a physical examination. After the underlying cause of the pinched nerve is determined, a treatment plan is prescribed and symptom relief occurs.

The Spine Team at Plymouth Bay Orthopedic Associates consists of Physical Therapists, Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Specialists and Board Certified Orthopedic Spine Surgeons.  Our goal is to design a treatment plan customized to your lifestyle and goals and we use the latest advancements in both non-surgical and Minimally Invasive spine care.  We have offices located in Plymouth, Duxbury and Sandwich, MA.  Contact us today to schedule a consult!