What is a pinched nerve?
A pinched nerve is a nerve under pressure. This pressure often comes from surrounding bone or soft tissues. A nerve under enough pressure will lose its ability to carry accurate signals, and those wayward signals will cause a variety of sensations in the body. For example, when a nerve is pinched or compressed, it can trigger the nerve to falsely signal pain. The compression also can limit the nerve’s ability to control the muscles it serves.
One of the most common places for a pinched nerve to occur is within the spine. The spine surrounds nerve roots that innervate areas throughout the body, controlling muscle movement and sensation. These nerve roots are especially vulnerable to being pinched within the tightly packed spinal column.
Beginning signs of a pinched nerve
When a nerve is pinched, the initial symptoms may include localized pain. However, a spinal pinched nerve can also cause pains and sensations that are far removed from the point of pressure. For instance, a pinched nerve in the lower spine may cause shooting pains and tingling down the buttocks and legs, whereas a pinched nerve in the neck can lead to numbness or tingling in the shoulders, arms or fingers.
Later signs of a pinched nerve
After a nerve endures constant pressure over a longer period of time, pain and muscle weakness may increase. There also may be a loss of reflexes, dexterity and sensation in the affected area, as well as weakening (atrophy) of the affected muscles.
Because a pinched nerve also might be blocked from receiving proper nutrients, the nerve fiber may eventually die and lose its ability to transmit any electrical impulses. When enough nerve fibers stop working, the skin may feel numb or a muscle may stop contracting properly.
What are the nerves?
As part of the body’s nervous system, nerves branch out from the brain and spinal cord to carry instructions to every area of the body. Essentially, the nerves are like electrical wires that allow signals to travel from the brain to the spinal cord to the organs and extremities, and back again. Nerves within the brain and spinal cord are part of the central nervous system, while nerves that run from the spine to other areas of the body are called peripheral nerves. The peripheral nerves originate as nerve roots that exit the spinal cord and then branch off to spread throughout the body. The nerves that travel to muscles allow the muscles to move. Nerves also pass to the skin, providing the ability to feel.
After a nerve gets pinched
If a nerve gets “pinched,” the flow up and down the inside of the nerve is reduced or blocked, and the nutrients stop flowing. Eventually, the nerve membrane starts to lose its ability to transmit its electrical impulses, and the nerve fiber may eventually die. When enough fibers stop working, the skin may feel numb, or a muscle may not contract.
Your next steps…
You can decrease your risk factors for developing a spinal pinched nerve by taking simple precautionary measures. For example, you can learn what steps to take to limit your chances of injuring your neck or back, which in turn will protect your spinal cord and its nerve roots from injury. To better educate yourself, we suggest you take a look at our pinched nerve causes section.
If you think you may be showing signs of an impinged nerve, you can review our pinched nerve symptoms page for more detailed information.
If you have already been diagnosed with a pinched nerve in the neck or back and you’re tired of living with pain and other symptoms, we suggest that you view our page devoted to the treatment of a pinched nerve and see how the minimally invasive procedures performed by Laser Spine Institute might help you find relief from your symptoms.
You can also visit our FAQ page for some of the most commonly asked questions that the surgeons at Laser Spine Institute encounter. If you want to learn more about how we can help you, please feel free to contact us.