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Five Major Causes of a Pinched Nerve in the Spine

pinched nerve

A pinched nerve is a general term for nerve compression. This can happen nearly anywhere there are nerves in the body, particularly the spine. This is because the spinal column is densely packed with nervous tissue, including the spinal cord and nerves that branch off and extend out into the body.

A nerve can become compressed by basically any type of tissue, including muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments. Everyone has experienced a temporary pinched nerve if they have put pressure on an extremity, such as when your “hand falls asleep.” While this isn’t typically described as nerve pain, it can cause related symptoms of tingling and numbness.

Pinched nerves in the spine are a unique category in that they are highly connected to a number of age-related conditions. These conditions cause spinal anatomy to become displaced and narrow the spinal column, which can lead to a pinched nerve. A pinched nerve in the spine can lead to particularly severe nerve pain as well as other neuropathic symptoms. This nerve pain can be both local and radiating, as spinal nerve roots extend out into the upper and lower extremities.

By understanding the primary causes of a pinched nerve spine, you can better understand this diagnosis if it is affecting your life. As you explore the following information, we invite you to reach out to us at any time if you would like to learn more.

The following are five common spine conditions that can cause a pinched nerve.

  1. Herniated and Bulging Discs 

Our spinal discs are made to withstand tremendous pressure while allowing basic spinal movement. Over time, they can lose their elasticity and durability, which can cause them to extend out of their normal perimeter in the spinal column.

A bulging disc is when the outer layer bulges out into the spine, but otherwise stays intact.

A herniated disc is typically understood as when inner disc material pushes out through a tear or weak point in the outer layer. Often a bulging disc can develop into a herniated disc over time.

Both conditions can cause a pinched nerve if they extend into the central spinal canal or into one of the nerve root exits, called foramina.

  1. Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease is a broad term describing the age-related breakdown of the spinal discs. Essentially, the discs dry out over time, making them less able to function properly as shock absorbers. While this condition actually contributes to other disc conditions such as bulging and herniated discs described above, it also results in loss of disc height, which can compress and narrow the entire spinal column, resulting in a pinched nerve.

Similar to spinal arthritis, it can also lead to the development of bone spurs, which inhibit spinal function and cause nerve compression on their own.

  1. Spinal Arthritis 

Since there are so many individual joints in the spine that withstand so much stress, spinal arthritis is a very common condition. This develops when protective cartilage and joint fluid begins to wear down, causing increased joint friction and inflammation. In addition to causing aches, pain and stiffness, swollen spinal facet joints can also cause a pinched nerve in the spinal column. This is especially true for nearby nerve roots and medial branch nerves that are closest to the facet joints.

  1. Bone Spurs

Bone spurs are the body’s natural response to bone on bone friction caused by conditions such as arthritis and degenerative disc disease. While not painful by themselves, they can restrict movement and potentially lead to a pinched nerve in the spinal column. Resulting symptoms of nerve pain, tingling, numbness and muscle weakness can be both localized and radiate into the extremities.

  1. Spondylolisthesis 

Spondylolisthesis is a condition where a vertebra in the spinal column begins to slip out of place over the one below it. It is most common in the lower, or lumbar, spinal region and there are a range of causes, including stress fractures and age-related degeneration. The slippage can range in severity from minimal to complete vertebral displacement. However, even minor cases can cause enough displacement for a pinched nerve to occur.

Treatment options for pinched nerve relief

If you are seeking relief from a pinched nerve in the spine, there are a number of effective treatment options. The right care plan varies from patient to patient, depending on specific diagnosis, lifestyle factors and medical history. This is why it’s so important to receive personalized care. For some patients, relief can be achieved with conservative treatments including physical therapy and steroid injections. In other situations, minimally invasive spine surgery can help relieve nerve compression on an outpatient basis if conservative therapy has been fully exhausted.

At USA Spine Care we can help you find lasting relief from a pinched nerve through personally developed treatment plans. From steroid injections to physical therapy, to minimally invasive spine surgery, our multidisciplinary team is committed to helping you get your life back.

Contact us today to learn more.

Pinched Nerve Quick Answers

Do pinched nerves go away on their own?

The ability of a pinched nerve to heal or go away on its own depends on the underlying cause. With most causes of spinal pinched nerves being related to a degenerative condition, it is relatively difficult for these conditions to heal and relieve pressure on the nerve. In some cases surgery is required to remove tissue that is causing a pinched nerve to prevent long-term nerve damage.

How do you relieve a pinched nerve?

Symptoms of a pinched nerve in the spine can be relieved with conservative treatments such as rest, over-the-counter medication, hot/cold therapy, physical therapy and steroid injections. Surgery can be an option if conservative therapies have been exhausted without bringing relief.

How long does a pinched nerve last?

A pinched nerve in the spine can last from a short period of time to years or longer. As the conditions that cause them tend to be progressive, a pinched nerve can become worse over time. This is why it’s important to take a proactive approach.

Is a pinched nerve serious?

A pinched nerve can start as a minor condition and worsen over time. Because of this patients need to take pinched nerve treatment seriously upon diagnosis by fully committing to conservative therapy. In the long-term, surgery may offer the best chance of avoiding permanent nerve damage if symptoms do not respond to initial therapy.

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