About Pinched Nerves
A pinched nerve occurs when a spinal nerve is compressed on the outside by one or more surrounding structures. The compression of the nerve causes irritation and inflammation producing pain, disrupting sensory information traveling to the brain, or impede commands from the brain to your muscles. Some of the more common causes of a pinched nerve are a herniated or bulging disc, spinal stenosis, or arthritis.
The clinical name for a spinal pinched nerve is radiculopathy. A common term used to describe a radiculopathy is sciatica, where spinal nerves contributing to the sciatic nerve become compressed at the level of the spine. The sciatic nerve is responsible for sending nerve signals to the legs and feet.
Common Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve
Symptoms experienced from a pinched nerve depend on which nerve is affected. If the nerve is in the cervical spine (neck area) numbness, pain, or tingling in the arms and hands may occur. If the nerve is located in the lumbar spine (lower back) similar symptoms may arise but in the hips, buttocks, legs or feet.
Diagnosis of a Pinched Nerve
Typically a comprehensive physical examination is sufficient to diagnose a pinched nerve. Sometimes further testing may be needed to see what caused the pinched nerve. The following tests are used to help determine the cause:
- X-ray – imaging from X-rays can be used to see any bone abnormalities or spinal dislocation that may be causing a pinched nerve
- MRI scan – imaging study of choice which shows soft tissue relationships (discs, spinal cord, and nerves)
- CT scan – uses x-ray images and a computer to produce detailed pictures of the spine and surrounding structures
- CT plus myelogram – injects a dye into the spinal canal to identify nerve compression through CT scan imaging
Treatment Options for a Pinched Nerve
Depending on the case, treatment options for pinched nerves include nonoperative treatment and surgical treatment. Non-operative options include medication and physical therapy. Surgical options for a pinched nerve include:
These procedures are typically performed through minimally invasive spine techniques.