Although millions of people worldwide suffer from pinched nerves, surprisingly few of us can answer the question: What is a pinched nerve? As its name suggests, a pinched nerve is a nerve that has become injured, damaged, or compressed (colloquially referred to as pinched) by adjacent muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones, or other soft tissue in the body.
Common Pinched Nerve Cause
With all of the tissue surrounding the nerves throughout our bodies, it is easy to see how a nerve can get compressed. Consider a herniated disc in the spinal column as an example. Intervertebral discs are the cushions between the vertebrae in the back. When a disc herniates, the annulus fibrosus (the outer lining) tears, permitting the nucleus pulposus (a jelly-like substance inside the disc) to leak out into the spinal canal. If this leak impinges on adjacent nerve roots that are entering and exiting the spinal column through the intervertebral foramina (the small spaces between vertebrae), irritation occurs and as the nerve is compressed. .
Pinched Nerve Symptoms
Nerves transmit messages via electrical impulses, enabling organs and muscles to communicate with the brain, and vice versa. When a nerve is pinched, its ability to transmit vital sensory information is diminished, leading to neuropathy. Neuropathy is irritation and inflammation of a nerve caused by a herniated disc or any other spine condition. Symptoms include:
- Pain radiating outward from the source of the pinched nerve
- Numbness and decreased sensation
- Localized paresthesia (“pins and needles” feeling)
- Muscle spasms, weakness, or twitching
The ideal solution is a preventative one: Avoid situations that put you at a greater risk for injury. Unfortunately, that may be impossible. Herniated discs, bulging discs, overexertion, medical conditions such as obesity, osteoarthritis, and even hereditary factors, can all lead to the neural compression associated with painful pinched nerves.
Conservative, non-surgical treatments under the supervision of a physician can help eliminate pain. These include:
- Steroid injections
- Physical therapy
If conservative treatments have failed and open back surgery is the next proposed solution, consider the minimally invasive, outpatient alternatives offered by Laser Spine Institute (LSI). The innovative endoscopic technology available at LSI can release pinched nerves and may provide efficacious treatment without undergoing traditional open spinal surgery. Contact us today for a complimentary review of your MRI or CT scan, and for more information about our procedures.