A pinched nerve in your back can cause you pain and result in symptoms that negatively affect your day-to-day life. Pinched nerve in back treatment isn’t the same for everyone, so it’s important to understand what’s causing your impingement and what methods of relief will be most suitable for you.
What is a pinched nerve?
Your spine is made up of 33 individual bones called vertebrae that stack together to create your spine. Up the center of these bones is a channel or “tunnel” known as the spinal canal. This is where your spinal cord resides. Your spinal cord runs from your lower back all the way up to your brain, carrying signals from nerves throughout your body.
All along your back nerves emerge from the spinal canal and out between these vertebrae. Sometimes one or more of these nerves can become “pinched” or impinged. This can be due to an ongoing condition or issue or can happen acutely, such as when you twist or bend in an awkward manner.
When a nerve is pinched it can result in a multitude of symptoms, ranging from mildly annoying to incredibly painful or debilitating. Numbness, tingling, pain, loss of small motor coordination and changes in bowel or bladder control are just a few of the symptoms that can accompany a pinched nerve.
Diagnosing a pinched nerve
The best place to start when seeking a diagnosis for a potentially pinched nerve is your doctor or neurosurgeon. They will give you an exam and assess your neurological function. A complete medical history may be taken and you’ll likely be referred out for imaging tests such as x-rays, an MRI or a CT scan to determine the underlying cause of your pinched nerve.
Treatments for a pinched nerve
Depending on what is causing your impingement, you may be treated non-surgically or surgically. Your surgeon can help guide you in choosing the best options for your particular needs. Below are both non-surgical and surgical treatment options for a pinched nerve in the back.
For acute pinched nerve pain, inflammation and discomfort, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) medications may be adequate while your nerve recovers from its impingement.
Another drug that might be employed to aid in your healing and reduce inflammation is corticosteroids. Often used in the cases of soft tissue damage, corticosteroids are a short-term treatment typically used for acute cases.
In some instances, your doctor may prescribe a short course of narcotic pain medication. These drugs can be addicting so are not a long-term solution but may provide you with the relief you need while your nerve heals from its impingement.
Both chronic and acute cases of pinched nerves can benefit from physical therapy. Particularly in instances of recurrent symptoms, such as those associated with sciatica, physical therapy can help strengthen the muscles and provide support to structures that might be interfering and compressing on nerves.
Sometimes injections of corticosteroids are used to deliver anti-inflammatory benefits of steroids right to the point of discomfort. While they don’t cure or address the root cause of a pinched nerve, they can provide some relief from the inflammation that may be causing nerve compression.
Between each of your vertebrae is an intervertebral disc. This disc acts as a cushion between the bones and provides support and flexibility, as well as protection for your spinal cord. When a disc ruptures, the inner contents can push into the spinal canal, placing pressure on a nerve root.
Most discectomies can be performed in a less invasive manner through the use of specialized instruments.
You will be placed under general anesthesia and your surgeon and his or her team will perform your surgery. The portion of the damaged disc will be removed so as to relieve the pressure being put on the nerves. Sometimes, a discectomy is done in conjunction with fusion surgery. A fusion essentially provides support in absence of the disc by created a sort of “bridge” between the two or more vertebrae involved. It is performed using bone grafts, allografts, synthetic mesh, rods, plates and screws, or a combination of methods.
Recovery from discectomy varies for each person, but you can expect to be back to normal within six months. The first few weeks are crucial in helping determine how the rest of your recovery goes. If you work in a low-impact job, you can return to work as early as 2 – 3 weeks following your surgery. Those in more strenuous professionals may not be released to go back to work until after the sixth week. It’s important that you follow your doctor’s instructions and don’t reinjure your surgical site.
Each of your vertebrae has a portion known as a lamina. The lamina lies at the back of the bone. When a nerve is pinched or impinged, it may be necessary to remove this piece of bone in a procedure called a laminectomy.
As with the aforementioned discectomy, a laminectomy is performed under general anesthesia. Your surgeon will remove the lamina and may perform a fusion surgery to create stability.
Recovery for a laminectomy typically follows the same timeline as that of a discectomy.
It’s important to note that it is especially vital to cease smoking before any surgery involving a fusion, and then throughout recovery. Smoking tobacco can slow or even stop the healing of the newly grafted bone.
Finding the right doctor to help you with your pinched nerve in back treatment shouldn’t be stressful. There are many highly qualified and experienced doctors in the Tristate area that specialize in these types of treatments and surgeries. You owe it to yourself to live a pain-free life!