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Understanding Pinched Nerve Conditions

Your nervous system is an important part of your body, transferring information from the brain to the body’s organs, muscles, and tissues, and carrying sensory information back to the brain for processing.

If anything applies too much pressure on a nerve anywhere in the body — say, cartilage, muscles, tendons, or bony growths — it disrupts the nerve’s function and causes a number of unpleasant symptoms, including pain and weakness. In these cases, the nerve is said to be “pinched.”

Pinched nerves are common, affecting about 85 out of 100,000 American adults per year. And while anyone can develop a pinched nerve, they’re more common in people over 50 because of arthritis and age-related spinal degeneration.

At Apex Spine and Neurosurgery, our expert team of neurosurgeons sees a lot of patients with pinched nerves. Here’s what you need to know about pinched nerve conditions and how they’re treated.

Symptoms of pinched nerves

No matter where in the body a nerve is pinched, it displays similar symptoms. 

These include:

These problems may be worse when you’re lying down, since you may place additional pressure on the affected nerve.

If the nerve is pinched for a limited time, there's usually no permanent damage, and once the offending pressure is released, nerve function returns to normal. If the pressure continues, though, it can lead to long-term, chronic pain and weakness, ultimately causing permanent damage. That’s why it’s so important to get medical attention as soon as possible.

Conditions caused by pinched nerves

A pinched nerve is often associated with pain in the neck (cervical spine) or lower back (lumbar spine), which may be caused by pressure on the nerve root as it exits the spinal column. The pressure may result from herniated discs, bone spurs on the vertebrae of the spine, or spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal. The pain often radiates into the extremities, a condition known as radiculopathy.

An example of lumbar radiculopathy is sciatica, a condition that results from a compression of the nerve between the L4-L5 vertebrae. An example of cervical radiculopathy is cervical spondylosis, a general term for age-related wear and tear that affects the discs in your neck. More than 85% of people over 60 suffer from this condition.

Not all pinched nerves are found in the spine. Several problems that present with numbness, pain, and tingling in the hands or feet include peripheral neuropathy, tennis elbow, and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Treatments for pinched nerves

Treatment for your pinched nerve depends on the condition’s root cause. And even though our physicians at Apex Spine and Neurosurgery are neurosurgeons, we’re likely to start you off with conservative treatments before resorting to surgery.

We most often start with simple rest for the affected area, perhaps combined with an over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory or pain reliever. Given a little bit of time, most problems resolve themselves without further intervention. If the OTC medications aren’t effective, we may recommend an oral or injected steroid to reduce inflammation and thereby relieve pressure on the nerve.

Depending on where your pinched nerve is located, you may be given a splint or brace to immobilize the area. Another possibility is physical therapy, which teaches you exercises designed to stretch and strengthen the muscles in the affected area, thereby relieving pressure on the nerve. The therapist may also recommend activity modifications so you don’t continue to aggravate the nerve.

If none of these conservative treatments are effective, we may recommend surgery for your specific problem. Some spinal surgeries we perform include spinal decompression, microdiscectomy (disc repair), disc replacement, or spinal fusion.

If you’re experiencing weakness, numbness, tingling, or radiating pain from a pinched nerve, it’s best to come in and let our doctors determine what’s going on. You can call any of our three offices in Roswell, Alpharetta, and Bethlehem, Georgia, or you can schedule your consultation online.

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