Nerve compression — overview

By Michael Perry, M.D.

Nerve compression is restriction of the space around a nerve, usually by a muscle, bone or ligament. The spine is a region that frequently develops nerve compression because it must simultaneously protect the central nervous system while supporting the weight of the upper body. This leads to conditions that can displace spinal anatomy and constrict the already narrow passageways that the nerves travel through.

A compressed nerve can cause symptoms like pain, numbness or weakness both locally and in the extremities. The location of the compressed nerve, also called a pinched nerve, determines the part of the body that experiences these symptoms. For example, lumbar (lower) spine nerve compression affects the lower body and cervical (upper) spine nerve compression causes symptoms in the neck, shoulders and arms. These symptoms can be debilitating, affecting your ability to work or do everyday activities like prepare a meal or take your dog for a walk.

Causes of nerve compression

Nerve compression in the spine is often the result of an age-related disorder like spinal arthritis or spondylolisthesis. It can also be caused by traumatic injury, repetitive motion or poor posture. Specific conditions, such as a herniated disc caused by aging or injury, can put pressure on either the spinal cord or nerve roots as they branch off from the spine. This causes the pain and limited mobility that sends patients to their doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

A pinched nerve is usually diagnosed through physical examination, review of medical history and diagnostic tests like an MRI. Many patients find relief with a course of conservative treatment, including:

  • Rest
  • Stretching and exercise
  • Massage
  • Hot and cold therapy
  • Anti-inflammatory medicines or pain medications
  • Physical therapy

When to consider surgery

Surgery is typically considered after a period of weeks or months if conservative treatments have not improved symptoms enough for a return to normal activity. Surgery is usually considered a last-resort treatment because of the highly invasive nature of traditional open spine procedures and the risks and difficulties involved.

Laser Spine Institute is the leader in minimally invasive spine surgery, which uses a less than 1-inch incision that spares muscles and leads to a shorter recovery time compared to traditional open back surgery.^

If you’re tired of dealing with the pain and discomfort of a pinched nerve, contact Laser Spine Institute today for a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you may be a candidate for our minimally invasive spinal surgery.

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