Pinched nerve FAQ

By Michael Perry, M.D.

Q: What causes a pinched nerve?

A: A pinched nerve, also called nerve compression, happens if surrounding tissue such as a bone, cartilage, muscle or tendon becomes displaced and puts excess pressure on a nerve. This pressure (compression) prevents the nerve from functioning properly and can cause pain, tingling, numbness or weakness in the areas of the body where the nerve travels. Common causes of pinched nerves in the spine can include bone spurs, herniated discs, bulging discs or inflamed facet joints.

Q: Where does a pinched nerve occur?

A: A pinched nerve can occur anywhere in your body and the area that displays symptoms may not be the same location as the affected nerve. For example, a herniated disc in the lower region of the spine may press on a nerve root, causing pain that shoots down the back of your leg. Another common type of pinched nerve occurs at the median nerve in the carpal tunnel of your wrist; compression of that nerve can lead to pain and numbness in your hand and fingers, which is called carpal tunnel syndrome. These are just two common examples of pinched nerves — many other nerves can be pinched, including those in your neck, shoulder, elbow and other areas.

Q: What can cause a pinched nerve?

A: The following factors may increase your risk of experiencing a pinched nerve:

  • Osteoarthritis – Nerves can become pinched by enlarged arthritic joints, or by the bone spurs caused by osteoarthritis.
  • Age – The natural aging process causes the body to weaken and can accelerate the deterioration of discs, ligaments and bone tissue in the spine.
  • Posture – Slouching or sitting with poor posture can put additional pressure on your spine and nerves.
  • Body mass – Carrying extra body weight can put additional pressure on nerves.
  • Overuse – When particular activities call for repetitive motions of the wrist or shoulder, the possibility of a pinched nerve occurring becomes more likely.
  • Heredity – Conditions that often cause pinched nerves can be genetically inherited.
  • Spinal Injury – When the spine is injured, vertebrae and discs can be displaced, narrowing the available space for nerves.

Q: I’ve had pain, numbness, tingling or muscle weakness for several days and these symptoms don’t respond to rest and over-the-counter pain relievers. Could these symptoms be the result of a pinched nerve?

A: Yes, they could be, but you need to get an appropriate medical diagnosis in order to be certain. Your general practitioner will be able to do a physical exam and conduct any necessary tests, which may include a nerve conduction study or electromyography. These tests are often performed at the same time and take about one hour. You could also obtain an MRI or CT scan. At Laser Spine Institute we offer a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.

Q: When should I consider surgery for my pinched nerve?

A: Your physician will most likely begin with conservative treatments such as painkillers, hot/cold therapy, stretching and other options. For more severe situations, you may be advised to try corticosteroid injections. It is after these treatments prove to be ineffective in relieving your symptoms that your physician may recommend surgery as an alternative.

Q: What is my prognosis after the surgery?

A: Laser Spine Institute has minimally invasive outpatient procedures that are performed to remove the displaced tissue that’s causing pinched nerves. We use a less than 1-inch incision to access the spine and decompress nerves, which results in a shorter recovery time^ with less risk of complication for our patients. Eighty-six percent of our minimally invasive decompression patients are able to return to work within 3 months of surgery.

Q: Am I too old for Laser Spine Institute surgery?

A: We do not have an age limit, as long as you get a clearance by both your physicians and ours. Restoring spinal function can help improve mobility, vitality, endurance and patient appetite. After undergoing our procedure, many patients also report improvement with arthritic symptoms and other chronic ailments that are associated with the aging process.

Q: How long does it take to see results?

A: Every patient is different and experiences a different recovery process. Results will depend on pathology and the severity of the patient’s condition. It could vary from a couple of hours to a few days before results are noticeable.

Q: Will I need physical therapy after the surgery?

A: Yes, sometimes a patient might need physical therapy if it is advised as part of the post-surgical plan.

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