Understanding the causes of nerve pain in the spine

Nerve pain in the spine can be caused by several different factors, ranging from disease to injury. Often, the root of nerve pain is that a nerve is compressed by a misaligned piece of the spine, such as a disc or vertebra. The nerve compression can cause pain that travels the length of the nerve pathway, sometimes resulting in pain that extends from the spine to the extremities.

For many patients with nerve pain in the spine, a degenerative spine condition is to blame. A degenerative spine condition often develops as the spine ages and the components of the spine begin to wear down. Over time, the vertebrae in the spine can begin to press down on the discs that rest in between them. As the vertebrae continue to compress the discs, the discs may begin to shift, bulge or even herniate. All of these options result in the movement of the components of the spine — in this case, the discs — out of the normal alignment of the spinal cord. When this happens, the protruding disc can impact a nerve root in the spinal canal, sending symptoms of pain, tingling, numbness and weakness through the nerve pathway.

If you are experiencing pain in the neck or back, sometimes accompanied by pain in the arm or leg, you should contact your physician to determine if you have a pinched nerve near your spine. Your physician can help diagnose the cause of your pain and help you find a treatment option to help you get back to the lifestyle you enjoy.

Alternative causes of nerve pain in the spine

Causes of nerve pain are not always degenerative in nature. Other conditions that can contribute to nerve pain symptoms include:

  • Physical trauma — Sudden injuries, fractures, prolonged overexertion, stroke or massively invasive surgeries can all cause nerve pain.
  • Tumors — The tumor itself, in addition to the effects of treatments like radiation and chemotherapy, can trigger nerve pain.
  • Disease or infection — Conditions like lupus, shingles, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and spinal meningitis, among others, can cause inflammation that puts pressure on spinal nerves.
  • Congenital defects — Spina bifida, scoliosis, lordosis and kyphosis are anatomical abnormalities that can cause spinal nerve pain.

Treatment methods for nerve pain

If your nerve pain is caused by a degenerative condition like a herniated disc, bulging disc, bone spurs, spondylolisthesis, spinal stenosis or spinal osteoarthritis, your physician will most likely recommend conservative treatment. Conservative, nonsurgical treatment is often an effective way to realign the spine and remove pressure from the nerve root without having to undergo surgery.

However, some individuals with severe nerve pain will seek more targeted treatment options, but want to avoid the risks and lengthy recuperation of a highly invasive, open spine surgery. For these patients, Laser Spine Institute offers two types of minimally invasive spine surgery that is effective and safer than traditional open back surgery; we offer decompression surgery and stabilization surgery.

Our minimally invasive decompression surgery removes a small portion of the damaged disc or bone spur that is compressing the nerve root in the spinal canal. Once the pressure on the nerve root is released, the symptoms should subside. In some cases, the entire damaged disc needs to be removed because it can no longer support the surrounding vertebrae. In this case, our surgeons would follow a decompression surgery with a stabilization procedure, which means that the surgeons would remove the damaged disc and replace it with an artificial disc and bone grafts (sometimes) to stabilize the spine.

All of our procedures are performed through a small incision that avoids the disruption of surrounding muscles and ligaments. This minimally invasive approach allows our patients to experience a shorter recovery time^ and avoid overnight hospitalization with our outpatient surgery.

If you would like to learn more about minimally invasive, outpatient procedures for nerve decompression, contact Laser Spine Institute today.