Twenty of the spine’s 31 pairs of nerves are in the mid-back and neck region. Ten pairs are within the lower back area and the very end of the spine (sacrum), and the last set of nerves is in the tailbone (coccygeal nerves). However, all it takes is for one single nerve in any area to be damaged or irritated to trigger discomfort that can range from an occasional annoyance to debilitating pain. How can you tell if you have spinal nerve pain? Here are five warning signs to look for.
1. Numbness/Lack of Sensation
Numbness is felt as a lack of sensation that can occur within the back or neck or in nearby areas. It occurs because a nerve is no longer capable of transferring signals throughout the central nervous system. While numbness is a common warning sign associated with spinal nerve issues, it’s also one of the least disruptive of the possible symptoms. Still, any degree of numbness around your spine area should be reason enough to see your doctor.
2. Radiating (Shooting) Pain
If you fall and skin your knee, the pain is going to be where the injury is, but this isn’t always the case when spinal nerves are affected. When some spinal nerves are compressed or irritated, the nerve signals travel along the nerve’s pathway to other locations, which is referred to as radiating nerve pain (radiculopathy). “Shooting pain” linked to spinal nerves may be felt as discomfort in the following areas:
• Hips, thighs, and buttocks
• Arms and shoulders
• Legs* and sometimes the feet and toes
*Usually only one leg is affected
3. Changes in Walking Patterns
Lumbar spine (lower back) nerves that are compressed may produce motion-triggered discomfort that makes it difficult to walk normally. For instance, you may unconsciously start to walk differently to avoid certain movements that irritate nerves. If you find yourself shuffling, limping, or walking differently and you don’t have issues with your knees, ankles, or feet, the problem is likely related to spinal nerves.
4. Bladder Control Issues
Because of the way spinal nerves are interconnected with other nerves, it’s possible for nerve irritation to affect how signals controlling bladder functions are sent and received. If this is the case, you might experience:
• Instances of not getting to the bathroom on time
• Feelings of having to go when you don’t have to
• Failure to be alerted when you do have to go to the bathroom
5. Intense Headaches
If spinal nerves in the cervical region (neck and upper back) are irritated, you may experience short, intense headaches for no apparent reason, referred as occipital neuralgia. The resulting discomfort produced by these intense headaches includes throbbing, piercing, or electric-shock-like chronic pain that may be felt in the following areas:
• One side of the head
• Upper neck or back of head
• Behind the ears
Note: Occipital neuralgia headaches usually start in the neck and move upward
Because of the many unique characteristics of spinal nerve pain, some patients make the mistake of attempting to treat the symptoms where they are felt. Doing so is only likely to produce temporary relief if the actual source of nerve compression is elsewhere, which is why it’s important to see your doctor or a Beverly Hills spine surgeon if you suspect your discomfort is related to spinal nerve problems. Once an accurate diagnosis is made, you’re more likely to respond well to treatment efforts.
Reach out to The Spine Institute today if you think you’ve damaged your spinal nerve or are experiencing chronic spine pain. Dr. Hyun Bae and his team of professional surgeons can determine the cause of the pain and the possible course of treatment. We specialize in a wide array of surgical procedures such as Mobi-C artificial cervical disc. Beverly Hills residents can rely on Dr. Bae to help them find relief. Give us a call at 310-828-7757 to schedule an in-person evaluation.