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When you’re experiencing the pain and discomfort from a pinched nerve in your back, it’s important to understand the potential causes and what can be done to treat it. Specialists throughout NJ can offer you a wide variety of options that will address your unique compressed spinal nerve issues.

What is a Pinched Nerve?

Your back is a complex structure. The central element of this structure is your spine. Consisting of 33 individual bones that stack and interlock with one another, your backbone provides support for your entire upper body.

Through the center of the spine runs what is commonly called the spinal canal. This “tunnel” down the middle of your spine provides a protected area for your spinal cord. The spinal cord is the “communications network” of your body, comprised of thousands of nerves encased in a sac known as the dura mater.

Stemming off from your spinal cord, nerves branch out between the vertebrae along the length of your spine. A disc in your spinal cord acts as a shock absorber for the contact between the vertebral bodies. Occasionally, a pinched nerve in the spine may occur. This can be due to many issues. Also known as an impingement, the nerve is compressed in some way or another, causing it to send pain signals to the brain or even lose functionality, resulting in tingling or numbness.

For instance, in the case of a pinched nerve in the back of the neck, a cervical disc may have become damaged or started to disintegrate. This condition is known as a bulging or ruptured disc and can place pressure on the nerves adjacent to the rupture.

Diagnosing a Pinched Nerve

The diagnosis of a compressed nerve in the spine is essential to ensure you get the proper treatment. If you have been experiencing ongoing symptoms of a pinched nerve for more than a week or two, it is recommended to seek medical attention. However, if experiencing numbness, tingling, or loss of motor skills, it is advised to seek medical attention immediately.

Several diagnostic techniques are used to help determine if you’re suffering from a pinched nerve. Diagnosis typically starts with a physical exam. During this exam, your doctor will take a thorough look at your medical history and then assess your neurological function with a series of simple tests. If a mild pinched nerve is suspected, you may be advised to wait and see if the symptoms improve. If a more serious cause, such as a ruptured disc needs to be ruled out, you may have to undergo imaging tests, such as x-rays, CT scans or MRIs to help determine the cause of your symptoms.

Treatment and Surgery Options for Pinched Nerve in Back

While it may be tempting to explore at home treatment for the pinched nerve in your back, sometimes recovery from this condition will require more than just rest and over-the-counter pain medications.

It is important to note that over half of patients who suffer from a pinched nerve will avoid surgery with conservative management. Most patients use a combination of the treatments below prior to having surgery.

Non-Surgical Treatments for a Pinched Nerve

If your pinched nerve is the result of inadequate muscle support, your doctor may want to try a course of physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around the affected area(s). This is sometimes enough to prevent future problems and is the least invasive method for addressing your pinched nerve.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (frequently referred to as NSAIDs) are often used alone or in conjunction with other treatments to address swelling and some of the associated pain. Some common medications include acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen. There are also several prescription NSAIDs your doctor may prefer you use. NSAIDs are a great option for acute pinched-nerve pain. They do, however, carry risks, such as kidney or liver damage with long-term use.

Oral corticosteroids may be prescribed to help with pain and inflammation. They are frequently used in conjunction with other treatments to ensure that the body’s inflammatory response does not create excess swelling.

Steroidal injections are used to decrease swelling in the area of the offending nerve(s), not to mention the nerves themselves. This is a short-term treatment option that may be enough in some cases to return the nerve back to its normal functionality. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help every case and may require injections fairly frequently to maintain the effects.

Narcotic painkillers may be prescribed for short-term use. They’re especially helpful in cases where the pain from a pinched nerve has become debilitating. Because of the addictive nature of narcotics, it’s a good idea to talk at length with your doctor about the course of narcotics you’ll be taking and when you can expect to not need them anymore.

Surgical Treatment for a Pinched Nerve

Sometimes, the root cause of your pinched nerve makes it more than just a passing episode. Should none of the above options work adequately, or if it’s determined that the damage to a nerve or its surrounding structures is too great, surgery may be recommended.

A pinched nerve surgery should only be performed by a highly qualified neurosurgeon with a vast amount of experience in the area of nerve decompression surgery. Make sure you talk at length with your prospective surgeon to ensure that he or she is fully comfortable with performing your surgery.
Pinched nerve surgeries are typically minimally invasive, making them quicker and easier to recover from. Depending on the area of impingement, your neurosurgeon may choose to perform a microdiscectomy, foraminotomy or laminectomy, anterior cervical discectomy (with or without fusion) or lumbar spine fusion.

The advantage of having surgery is that the problem can be corrected. This is especially important if you lead a particularly active lifestyle that won’t allow for intermittent bouts of bed rest when the pinched nerve in your back flares up.

Obviously, as with any surgery, there are risks that may be associated. Some of these risks may include bleeding, infection of the surgical site, nerve damage (luckily, with today’s techniques and specialized surgical instruments in the right hands, this is much less of a risk than it used to be), or the need for additional surgery. Your surgeon will be able to give you a good idea of what your risk factors may be and how you can minimize them even more.