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Pinched Nerves and Sciatica in the Spine

Introduction

Nearly 45 miles of nerves run through your body, and they all begin in the brain. The spinal cord extends from brain and smaller nerves branch from the spinal cord to innervate your entire body. The spinal cord is protected by 24 adult vertebral bones and nerve branches extend out into the body from between each vertebra. Each vertebra is separated by an intervertebral disc, which cushions your spine during impact and allows flexibility during movement. Impingement of the spinal cord or the nerves extending from the vertebral column can be a source of discomfort and pain.

Pinched Nerve Defined

A pinched nerve is used as a term to describe damage or injury to a nerve or group of nerves. The nerve can be pinched from compression, constriction or stretching. A pinched nerve can occur at any neurological location in your body, but a pinched vertebral nerve root can be severe. Pinched spinal nerves can cause pain to entire segments of your body.

Pinched nerves may cause pain, tingling, numbness or muscle weakness. A sharp burning pain may radiate outward from the location of the pinched nerve. Sometimes, sleeping can aggravate pinched nerves and cause further nerve injury.

Sciatica Defined

The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the human body, which runs from the lower back down into each of your legs. Sciatica is a symptom, not the name for a medical condition. It is defined as pain, weakness, numbness or tingling in the leg caused by pinching pressure on the sciatic nerve. Often, sciatic nerve pain occurs on one side of your body, affecting one leg or the other. Since the nerve extends from the hip, down through the leg and into the foot, pain can occur at any of these locations.

Causes of Pinched Nerves

  • Spinal disc abnormality
  • Bone fractures & Osteoarthritis
  • Piriformis syndrome
  • Repetitive stress
  • Sports
  • Obesity

Pinched nerves can be caused by a variety of physiological determinants. Aging can cause intervertebral discs to harden and crack, which causes the space between vertebra to decrease and pinch spinal nerves. Also, the discs can bulge and cause nerve compression. Pelvic and vertebral fractures may pinch nerves, as well as tumors. Piriformis syndrome causes pressure and irritation on the sciatic nerve by the piriformis muscle in the buttocks. Repetitive motions from job-related actions or competitive sports can instigate osteoarthritis, which may cause bony growths that can pinch nerves. Also, obese individuals may experience pinched nerves from excessive amounts of tissue pressure or from collapsing vertebral space.

Treatment

  • Rest
  • Physical therapy
  • Medication & Injections
  • Surgery

 

After a proper medical diagnosis, that may include nerve conduction studies, an electromyography or an MRI, treatment will likely begin conservatively. The most common treatment for a pinched nerve is to stop the activities that irritate the nerve and rest the affected area. Also, splints and braces can be used to minimize movements.

Physical therapy can help strengthen and stretch muscles surround the affected nerve, which can relieve nerve pressure. An occupational therapist can suggest modified motions to repetitive work-related activity that may exacerbate a pinched nerve.

Commonly, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil, Motrin and Aleve can help eliminate pain and inflammation surrounding a pinched nerve. Severe pain may require prescription-strength dosages. Sometimes, corticosteroid injections may be administered near a pinched nerve. Such injections may be able to minimize pain and inflammation.

If a pinched nerve has not responded to conservative treatment and nerve damage is impending, it may be necessary to decrease nerve pressure surgically. The type of surgery depends on the location of the pinched nerve.

 





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