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Pinched Nerves

A pinched nerve is a common cause of neck and back pain.  Different types of spinal disorders can cause a spinal nerve to be slightly compressed or pinched.  The nerve’s first reaction to compression is inflammation and pain.

Common causes of a pinched nerve in the spine include:

  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Disc herniation
  • Fracture
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Spondylosis
  • Spondylolisthesis

Symptoms
Symptoms of a pinched nerve depend on where the nerve is compressed.  Examples of cervical and lumbar symptoms include the following:

Cervical (Neck)

Lumbar (Low back)

Pain; mild to intense

Pain; mild to intense

Pain that spreads (radiates) into the shoulders, upper back, arms

Pain that spreads (radiates) into the buttocks, legs

Upper body stiffness

Lower body stiffness

Headache

Sciatica

Tingling, burning sensations

Tingling, burning sensations

Weakness

Weakness

Talk with your doctor
Sudden pain or pain that is severe, or that becomes chronic or progressive, requires evaluation by your doctor.  Even if you have consulted with your doctor about a spinal problem, seek medical if any of these symptoms develop:

  • Loss of coordination; hand clumsiness
  • Balance problems
  • Difficulty walking
  • Bladder or bowel dysfunction (rare)
  • Paralysis (rare)

Diagnosis
Your doctor collects and compares information gathered while talking with you about your medical history and past and existing symptoms.  A physical and neurological examination looks for limitations of movement, balance difficulties, and what exacerbates and relieves pain.  During the exam he tests your reflexes, muscle strength, sensations, or other signs of neurologic loss.  Your doctor may order imaging studies such as plain x-ray, CT, or MRI to study and confirm you diagnosis to direct your treatment plan.

Treatment
Most patients respond to non-surgical care, such as:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Muscle relaxant medication
  • Pain medication (occasionally, a narcotic)
  • Cold and heat therapy
  • Soft cervical collar or brace
  • Spinal injections
  • Physical therapy
  • Cervical (neck) or lumbar (low back) traction
  • Alternative therapies (eg, acupuncture)

Your treatment may include information to help you correct any problems with your posture and body mechanics.  Correct posture at rest and during activity can help you heal and prevent recurrence or spinal injury.

Spine surgery may be considered if neurological symptoms develop or progress and/or the cause of the pinched nerve creates spinal instability. 

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