Nerve Impingement Syndrome
A spinal nerve usually becomes compressed or trapped when other components of the spine move out of their natural anatomical space and press against said nerve. It can be a rather painful condition and at times it is accompanied by numbness, tingling, or weakness in the back, neck, or limbs.
What leads to pinched nerves?
A nerve root in the back or neck may become trapped due to any of the following reasons:
- Arthritis of the spine.
- Being overweight places additional pressure on the spine and can press down on nerve roots.
- Bone spurs are tiny bone growths that can form on the spine as we age, and while they are not painful in themselves, when they impinge on nearby nerves, they may cause pain.
- Disc degeneration can contribute to the shortening of the spine, and as such press on nerve roots.
- Disc herniation can press against nerve roots as the contents of the disc bulge out of their protective shell. In other words, a herniated disc can protrude towards the directions of nerves exiting the spine and press against them.
- Injury can damage nerve roots that exit the spine.
- Postural disorders or poor posture habits that are sustained over long periods of time.
- Spinal compression causes the spine to be squashed down, and together with it, the other structures of the spine, including the nerves, do not have sufficient space, and as such there is a high chance for them to rub against other surfaces and trigger pain sensations.
- Spinal stenosis can trap a nerve, as it is characterised by a narrowing, and therefore lessening of space in the spinal canal – a hollow passage within the spinal column – which may affect not only nerves but also the spinal cord.
- Spondylolisthesis consists of a vertebra that slips out of its place, onto the adjacent spinal segment, and it can press against nerve roots.
How can you tell if your pain is caused by a trapped nerve?
When a nerve becomes pinched, it tends to lead to sharp pain that worsens with movement. Other symptoms such as muscle spasms, stiffness, or even pins and needles along the spine, arms, legs, fingers, or toes may also arise.
The bundle of symptoms that arises as a result of nerve pinching is oftentimes referred to as ‘radiculopathy’. The cervical and lumbar spine are most commonly affected, and when this happens, they may be referred to as cervical radiculopathy or lumbar radiculopathy, respectively.
When the issue affects the cervical spine, it can cause neck pain, and sometimes even headaches, as the pain spreads or refers upwards.
When a nerve in the lumbar spine becomes trapped it can cause lower back pain, hip pain, as well as leg pain.
What are the treatment options for a trapped nerve?
The first step in treating this condition is to obtain a diagnosis. The process usually starts with the specialist conducting a physical examination as well as taking a history. It may sometimes be necessary to undergo additional (imaging) tests such as CT scans or MRI scans to determine whether a nerve is pinched or not. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, treatment can begin.
In a large number of cases, the affected nerve can be treated without any surgical treatments. Spine surgery is a procedure that carries a high number of risks and can oftentimes lead to more problems than it solves. As such, it should only be considered as a last resort option when more conservative forms of treatment failed to provide the desired result.
Less invasive treatment options can include:
- Spinal manipulation, where a trained specialist releases the trapped nerve by performing specific stretches onto your affected region of the spine.
- Physical therapy to improve spinal mobility.
- Using a special spinal decompression device such as the Backrack to release any compression within the spine.
The latter can be especially helpful as a large number of back pain cases and conditions are directly caused or influenced by spinal compression.
For example, as compression squashes the spine, the vertebrae can then push down onto the spinal discs, causing the exterior of the disc to crack due to the inner pressure of the nucleus not having sufficient space to stay within its shell anymore.
However, when you reverse this process and decompress the spine, the vertebrae no longer press down on the disc, allowing it to heal.