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What causes a pinched nerve?

A pinched nerve is a term that describes the compression of a nerve root in the spinal canal due to an abnormality of the spine. This is often caused by certain spine conditions, such as a bulging disc, which causes the components of the spine to move out of their allotted space and into the spinal canal. When this happens, and a nerve root is compressed, the resulting symptoms usually include local pain at the site of the nerve compression, radiating pain down the local extremity and sometimes limited mobility due to intense pain.

A pinched nerve commonly develops in the cervical spine (neck) or lumbar spine (lower back) and radiates pain into the arm or leg, respectively. If you are experiencing local or radiating pain in the neck or lower back, or any of the other symptoms mentioned, you should consult your doctor to determine the cause of your pain. A pinched nerve is a result of a spine condition or injury. Your doctor can determine the cause of your pinched nerve and help you find treatment options available to help reduce your pain and symptoms. Many times, a pinched nerve can be treated with conservative therapies, such as chiropractic care and medication. However, spine surgery is also available to patients who do not find relief from conservative treatment.

Anatomy of a nerve root and why it causes pain

The nerve root is a part of the central nervous system that is hosted in the spinal canal. The spinal canal is the area surrounding the spine that creates a pathway for the nerves to send and receive signals to and from the brain. For example, a nerve root on the right side of the lower back might communicate with the brain about moving the right leg or foot, or about the pain that is being experienced in the right extremity.

When this nerve root is compressed, the brain receives a signal that there is pain at the site of the nerve. In severely pinched nerves, the brain might receive a strong signal of pain and determine that the entire right leg and foot are in pain. Additionally, the nerve roots are responsible for sending feeling to the extremities. If the nerve root (right side lower back) is pinched, the nerve root might not be able to send feeling signals to the right leg or foot, causing a tingling or numb feeling in the leg or foot.

For these reasons, the most common symptoms associated with a pinched nerve is local pain at the site of the nerve, radiating pain to the associated extremity and numbness or tingling in the extremity.

Treatment for a pinched nerve

The most common cause of a pinched nerve is a bulging disc in the spine. A bulging disc occurs when a disc in the spine becomes compressed between two nerves and flattens, expanding into the spinal canal. In some severe cases, the bulging disc could expand so far that the outer layer of the disc breaks open and the inner fluid leaks into the spinal canal, impacting a nerve root. Depending on the severity and location of the bulging disc, your physician may recommend conservative or surgical treatment to help relieve your pain and symptoms.

Conservative treatments often effectively reduce the pain and symptoms associated with a minor pinched nerve. Common conservative treatments include:

  • Chiropractic care
  • Physical therapy
  • Hot/cold compresses
  • Stretches and yoga
  • Exercise and weight loss
  • Pain medication

However, some more severe pinched nerves may require spine surgery to effectively treat the condition. At USA Spine Care, we offer minimally invasive decompression surgery and minimally invasive stabilization surgery to treat a pinched nerve. During our minimally invasive decompression surgery, the surgeon will only remove a portion of the bulging disc to release pressure from the nerve root. However, if the nerve root is severely impacted, the surgeon will perform a minimally invasive stabilization surgery and remove the entire bulging disc to free the nerve root; the surgeon will then place an implant in the empty disc space to stabilize the spine. Ask for your no-cost MRI review* today to determine if you are a candidate for minimally invasive spine surgery.

For more information about our safer and effective treatment options compared to traditional open back procedures,^ please contact our dedicated team or visit our FAQ page. We are here to help you find answers and information so you can make an informed decision about your spine care needs.

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