How a Pinched Nerve Develops
A pinched nerve, which may also be referred to as a compressed or impinged nerve, occurs when some sort of anatomical abnormality presses on a nerve. It can occur anywhere in the body, though the spine is a common site of nerve compression because spinal nerves, nerve roots, vertebrae, intervertebral discs, and spinal ligaments are in such close proximity to each other.
There are a variety of ways that a pinched nerve can develop in the spine. For instance, age-related degeneration may cause an intervertebral disc to bulge or herniate. A portion of the disc may then press on a nearby spinal nerve or nerve root. The same can occur if bone spurs develop or if a ligament, muscle, or tendon becomes inflamed.
What is Radiculopathy?
Radiculopathy is a term reserved for symptoms that result from the compression of a spinal nerve root. These roots in the spinal column are where virtually all peripheral nerves in the body originate from, and a pinched nerve root can actually cause symptoms to spread along the entire path of the root’s different branches and pathways. Possible symptoms of a pinched spinal nerve root include:
- Muscle weakness
These symptoms will tend to travel or radiate throughout the body. For instance, a compressed nerve in the neck (cervical spine) may cause discomfort to shoot through the shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers, whereas an impinged nerve in the lower back (lumbar spine) may cause symptoms to radiate through the buttocks, hips, legs, feet, and toes
Getting a Diagnosis
If you are experiencing radiculopathic symptoms and think you may have a pinched nerve in the spine, schedule a consultation with your primary care physician. He or she will likely perform a physical exam, ask you about you symptoms, and possibly order medical imaging tests like an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan. If your doctor is unable to confirm a diagnosis, you may be referred to a spine specialist. Most patients who are diagnosed with a pinched nerve are able to find relief from their symptoms with a regimen of conservative, non-surgical treatments.