A pinched nerve refers to a nerve that is compressed by some anatomical abnormality. Although a pinched nerve can occur anywhere in the body, the spine is the most common site of neural compression. The spinal cord is the large nervous track encased in a flexible boney tube composed of individual vertebrae. Nerve roots branch from the spinal cord and exit as spinal nerves through passageways between the vertebrae called foramina. Nerve roots branch off in all directions, spreading throughout the body, innervating the skin, muscles and organs. Vertebral flexibility together with the narrowness of the foramina creates elevated potential for spinal nerve entrapment. Nerve entrapment, or a “pinched nerve,” in the spine may be perceived as pain different from the site of actual entrapment.
What causes a pinched nerve?
Degenerative spine conditions are the most common culprits behind a pinched nerve. The spine consists of vertebrae, intervertebral discs, facet joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments. As we age, the cartilaginous areas, namely the joints and discs, begin to deteriorate and weaken. Discs can rupture or bulge, while joints can develop bone spurs. It is possible that these abnormalities remain asymptomatic. However, if free passage of nearby nerves is impeded, symptoms of pain, tingling and numbness can radiate along the course of the nerve. Symptoms caused by pinched nerve are associated with depression and insomnia.
Location of neural compression
The distribution of symptoms caused by a pinched nerve can vary depending where along the course of the spinal cord they arise. Neural compression in the cervical (neck) region can produce symptoms that spread through the shoulders, arms, hands and fingers, while the same condition in the thoracic spine (middle back) may cause symptoms around the rib cage and area of kidneys. The lumbar spine (lower back) is most commonly the site of pinched nerves. “Sciatica” is a term used to describe symptoms that begin in the lower back and spread through the buttocks, legs, knees, feet and toes.
If conservative treatment has failed to help you find satisfactory pain relief of symptoms, the experts at Laser Spine Institute may be able to help you find relief from neck or back pain. Our surgeons perform minimally invasive nerve decompression procedures that are a more effective alternative to traditional open spine surgery. Contact us for more information.