What is a Pinched Nerve?
A pinched nerve is the term used to describe the discomfort, pain, or numbness caused by damage or irritation of a nerve outside the brain or spinal cord. This condition occurs when too much pressure is applied to the nerve by surrounding tissues, such as tendons, muscles, cartilage, or bones. When this pressure occurs, it disrupts the function of the nerve and causes pain, numbness, weakness, or tingling. There is usually no permanent damage if a nerve is pinched for a short amount of time, but if the pressure continues, chronic pain or nerve damage can occur. While any nerve can be pinched, a pinched nerve is commonly associated with the neck or back.
What Causes a Pinched Nerve in the Spine?
A number of factors can cause a pinched nerve, such as:
- Repetitive movements
- Spinal stenosis
Where Can a Pinched Nerve in the Spine Develop?
A pinched nerve in the spine can develop in these areas:
- Lower back
- Middle back
- Upper back
Types of Pinched Nerves in the Spine
There are three main types of pinched nerves in the spine:
- Pinched cervical nerve– A pinched nerve in the cervical spine can lead to pain or tingling that originates in the neck and extends into the shoulder blade or arm region.
- Pinched thoracic nerve– A pinched thoracic nerve occurs within the middle or upper portion of the back
- Sciatica– Sciatica is a type of pain that can be caused by a pinched sciatic nerve, located in the lower back and stemming to the hips, buttocks, and legs.
How Does a Pinched Nerve Affect the Spine?
When the inner core of a spinal disc leaks out and affects the nearby nerve root, pain occurs. It’s not the disc that hurts, but the nerve that the disc is putting pressure on. The pain caused by a pinched nerve can radiate along the nerve path outward into other parts of the body. Oftentimes, the pain that radiates outwards to other regions of the body is reported to be worse than the back pain itself. When a nerve is severely pinched, neurological problems such as numbness or weakness can also occur.
What Are the Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve in the Spine?
The symptoms of a pinched nerve in the spine include:
- Muscle weakness in the back
- Numbness or reduced sensation in the back
- Sharp, burning, or aching pain that can radiate outward from the spine
- Tingling sensation in the back
These symptoms may become worse when sleeping.
What are the Risk Factors for a Pinched Nerve in the Spine?
The risk factors that increase the likelihood of a pinched nerve include:
- Diabetes – Those who suffer from diabetes are more likely to suffer from nerve compression.
- Obesity – Being excessively overweight adds pressure to the nerves, making them more likely to be pinched.
- Occupation– Those with a job that requires repetitive movements are at a higher risk for a pinched nerve.
- Osteoarthritis – Osteoarthritis may increase the risk of bone spurs, which can stiffen the spine and narrow the space in which your nerves travel, leading to a pinched nerve.
- Pregnancy – The weight gain associated with pregnancy may swell the nerve pathways, compressing the nerves.
- Sedentary lifestyle – Long periods of inactivity and lying down can increase the risk of a pinched nerve.
- Spinal stenosis – Spinal stenosis causes the body channel to narrow, which can increase the risk of a nerve becoming pinched.
How Do I Prevent a Pinched Nerve in the Spine?
You can prevent a pinched nerve in the spine with the following measures:
- Exercising regularly
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
- Maintaining correct posture
- Taking frequent breaks from activities that include repetitive movements of the spine