Your spine houses a bundle of nerves that branch out to other nerves responsible for many of the sensations you feel, so it’s not too surprising that you may experience some type of discomfort if one of those nerves becomes trapped or compressed. Oftentimes, the source of the entrapment is something in or around your spine. Fortunately, many patients respond well to non-surgical treatment. Keep reading to learn more about trapped spinal nerves.
Age-related spinal disc wear (degenerative disc disease) is a common reason spinal nerves become trapped over time. This happens when disc movement eventually traps nerves as they exit the bony hollow archways located between vertebrae (spinal foramen). It’s also possible for nerves to become trapped due to sudden injuries or spinal abnormalities. Symptoms associated with trapped spinal nerves may include:
• Local pain within the affected area
• Pain extending to nearby areas (e.g., neck, shoulders, arms, or legs)
• Reduced range of motion
• Muscle weakness
• Numbness that may be combined with a pins-and-needles-like sensation
Because symptoms can extend beyond where the actual nerve is trapped, it’s important to receive an accurate diagnosis if it’s suspected your discomfort may be related to a compressed or trapped nerve. This process typically involves discussing your symptoms, reviewing your medical history, and performing image tests. Nerve conduction studies and diagnostic injections may also be necessary to identify or confirm the trapped nerve responsible for your symptoms.
Treatment for trapped spinal nerves generally starts off with conservative (non-surgical) efforts. The treatment plan recommended for you will depend on the symptoms you’re experiencing and the location of the trapped spinal nerve. Because trapped nerves are sometimes irritated by inflammation, over-the-counter or prescription anti-inflammatory medications are often recommended to manage discomfort. Some patients also benefit from:
• Stretching exercises
• Making changes to posture habits
• Massage therapy and other forms of passive physical therapy
• Therapeutic (“active”) physical therapy exercises
Another non-surgical treatment option that may provide welcome relief is therapeutic injections. Usually containing a local anesthetic, corticosteroid (steroid) injections are delivered directly into the affected nerve root, with guidance provided by a special live X-ray or ultrasound. The goal is to block pain signals and/or reduce inflammation around the nerve responsible for your symptoms. If injections are effective, you may be able to perform beneficial physical therapy exercises meant to strengthen your spine-supporting muscle groups.
If conservative treatment efforts aren’t effective or if nerve entrapment is producing potentially life-threatening symptoms, surgery may be necessary to “untrap” the affected nerve and prevent further damage. Many nerve decompression procedures involve minimally invasive techniques designed to reduce surgical risks and shorten recovery times. With a decompression procedure such as a foraminotomy, Santa Monica patients are often able to go home the same day.
Lastly, reduce your risk of developing trapped spinal nerves by getting regular exercise, watching your posture, staying within a healthy weight range, and eating nutrient-rich foods that naturally decrease inflammation. Gentle forms of exercise like yoga could be just as beneficial, since spine-supporting muscle groups are targeted in a way that’s not overly aggressive or stressful.
Whether minimally invasive surgery offers the best chance for a positive outcome or you’re a good candidate for non-surgical treatment, make sure to consult with a trusted Santa Monica spine surgeon. You can rest easy knowing The Spine Institute can help you meet your goal of living a pain-free life. For more information or to schedule a consultation, call us at 310-828-7757 today.