The wide range of symptoms that may be related to a pinched nerve aren’t always predictable. Some patients may experience dull aches, numbness, and tingling sensations, while others might report sharp, debilitating pain that gets worse with certain movements and impacts quality of life. If this is the type of pain you’re experiencing, it may be nothing more than a temporary inconvenience that goes away after irritated nerves heal. Other times, it’s best to seek input from your regular doctor or a Santa Monica spine surgeon. Let’s take a moment to discuss pinched nerves to give you a better idea of when it’s best to seek care.
A “pinched” nerve is simply a nerve root that has pressure applied to it. The resulting compression causes the affected nerve to become irritated, which prevents it from functioning properly. A nerve can become compressed due to an injury that causes nearby tissues to swell (inflammation). Repetitive motions from playing sports or performing work-related tasks may also irritate nerves in or around the spine. Other possible causes of nerve irritation include: • Herniated disc(s) • Bone spurs • Abnormally narrow parts of the spine (spinal stenosis, scoliosis) • Damage from worn discs (degenerative disc disease)
Symptoms associated with a pinched or compressed nerve will depend on which specific nerve is affected. For example, a nerve irritated in the neck might result in numbness or discomfort extending to the shoulders or arms. However, a compressed nerve in the lower spine area may affect the hips, thighs, buttocks, or legs. Pinched nerves can also result in symptoms such as: • “Pins-and-needles” sensations • Localized and/or radiating pain • General muscle weakness • A lack of sensation in certain areas • Reduced reflexes or range of motion • Pain and other symptoms relegated to one side of the body
If a nerve is pinched because of swelling, the resulting symptoms usually go away once the inflammation subsides. However, if nerves are compressed because of a herniated disc or other structural problems, permanent nerve damage may occur. Long-term nerve compression can also affect other parts of the nervous system. Generally, it’s best to seek medical care for a pinched nerve under the following circumstances: • Symptoms keep coming back even after initial swelling has subsided • Pain, numbness, and other symptoms get progressively worse over time • Initial self-care methods aren’t helping all that much • Symptoms are consistently triggered by certain movements (suggests there is a structural issue involved, like a herniated disc) Barring potentially life-threatening symptoms such as loss of bowel or bladder control, the standard treatment for nerve irritation is to start with conservative remedies first. Such efforts typically include applying ice or heat, massage therapy, therapeutic exercises, and over-the-counter or prescription medications. If the source of nerve irritation is a herniated disc or other type of structural damage, surgery may be recommended. If you need a surgical procedure to treat your pinched nerve, you may want to consider having a spinal decompression or transforaminal interbody fusion. Santa Monicapatients who are seeking relief for their chronic pain can trust Dr. Hyun Bae at The Spine Institute. Call 310-828-7757 to talk to one of our friendly representatives and schedule an appointment today.