Pinched Nerve in Your Back

By Barbara Hales, M.D.
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senior woman suffering from pain in back at home

What is a Pinched nerve in your Back?

A pinched nerve is one that has disruption of function by pressure applied to it from adjacent tissues like bones, muscles, cartilage and tendons.

Although pinched nerves can occur anywhere along the back, the most common cause is due to a herniated disk in the lower spine creating pressure on the nerve root, experienced as pain traveling down the back of your leg. Additional causes and risks include:

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Injury/accidents
  • Sports activities
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Stress from repetitive action at work
  • Osteoarthritis- causes bone spurs which narrow vertebral spaces where nerves go through, pinching them
  • Pregnancy- compression comes from swollen nerve channels with weight and water gain
  • Excessive bed rest with lying down

Chronic pressure can cause permanent nerve damage and pain though if alleviated in a short timeframe, there is usually no long-lasting damage.

What should I expect with a Pinched Nerve?

Due to disruption of function from a pinched nerve, one can experience:

  • Tingling, a feeling of pins and needles
  • Feeling that the foot has fallen asleep
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness or decreased sensation
  • Aching, sharp, or burning pain which may spread outward

These symptoms may increase during sleep.

What are the treatment options for a Pinched Nerve in the Back?

Most people recover with rest, eliminating the offending activity and nonprescription pain relievers such as Tylenol, naproxen sodium (Aleve) and Ibuprofen.

Physical therapy can teach the appropriate exercises to aid in strengthening and stretching muscles in the affected region. This will diminish or alleviate pressure on the nerve. The therapist will also review daily activity and modify or advise to avoid certain activities that may exacerbate the nerve pain. Braces or splints can support and immobilize the affected area.

Corticosteroid injections (with epidurals) can decrease inflammation, relieving pain. Occasionally surgery is required to alleviate the pain when rest and conservative treatment is ineffective after observation for several weeks.

Surgery involves:

  • Removing a portion of a herniated spinal disk
  • Taking out or shaving bone spurs

When you go to your physician for an evaluation, write down not only the symptoms you are experiencing but also the actions that heighten the intensity of the pain.