Understanding a Pinched Nerve
A pinched nerve can occur anywhere in your body. Injury or damage to a nerve may result in a pinched nerve.
When there is pressure on a nerve or set of nerves, the result may be referred to as a pinched nerve.
The main parts of the spine are comprised of 24 vertebrae and between each vertebra are shock absorbing discs. The vertebrae are bony structures and the discs are soft and gelatinous. The vertebrae provide for the flexibility in the cervical, thoracic and lumbar area of the spine. The discs provide a cushion between the vertebrae to prevent two vertebrae from touching.
The spinal canal is surrounded by nerves and nerve roots. Surrounding the nerves are tissues such as muscles and tendons.
If the cushion (disc) between the vertebrae is herniated, this is often the main cause of a pinched nerve. In a herniated or ruptured disc, the nucleus of the disc presses on the nerve or a set of nerves. Depending on the location of the herniated disc, determines the area of the body affected.
Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve
The symptoms of a pinched nerve are most often in the affected area of the body. These may include:
- A numbness or decrease in sensation to the area supplied by the nerve
- A pain that radiates outward that is sharp or burning
- Straining or coughing and sneezing
- The feeling of pins and needles or a feeling of your foot or hand falling asleep
- Muscle weakness
Diagnosing a Pinched Nerve
To diagnose a pinched nerve, your doctor will determine the history and experience of the pain. The questions your doctor may ask are: when you first started to experience the pain; have you started a new sport or activity; have you started an exercise program or altered your current exercise program; have you suffered from a recent injury or perhaps a past injury. Your doctor will then want you to describe the pain you are experiencing, including the areas of pain; what you may be doing when the intensity of the pain increases; are you experiencing headaches; or if any activity or movement worsens or betters the pain.
A physical exam will assist your doctor in determining how your neck is functioning. This may include asking you to bend your neck; to roll your head in various directions; whether you can rotate or twist your neck; and whether you are experiencing any tenderness to the touch.
There are also tests that may be performed in determining whether you have a pinched nerve. This may include examining the nerves exiting your spine by testing numbness; reflexes; strength of muscles.
Once your doctor has determined whether you are suffering from a pinched nerve, depending on how debilitating it is, your doctor may recommend surgery. Prior to doing so, there are conservative treatments that will first be administered. If no relief is found in conventional treatment for a pinched nerve, surgery may then be explored.
Prior to deciding on whether surgery is the right choice for you, it is important to research all options for surgery such as conventional or a minimally invasive surgery. Know your facts, ask for the benefits of each; the risks; the prognosis; recovery time and only then will you feel confident with the choice you make.