Pinched Nerve Causes & Symptoms

Pinched Nerve Overview Pinched Nerve Causes & Symptoms Pinched Nerve Diagnosis & Treatments

What are the Causes of a Pinched Nerve?

Spinal and exiting nerves are most vulnerable in your spinal canal where they pass through narrow places called foramen. A pinched nerve is a direct compression or pressure on a nerve either from your disc, ligament or the surrounding bony structure in the foramen. Nerves become pinched because the spine becomes degenerated over time or because of trauma. Poor posture, smoking, heavy lifting and repetitive motion are just a few things that can cause spinal or disc degeneration.

Once a nerve becomes pinched, an inflammatory process begins that may cause neck or low back pain. Sometimes this pain can radiate from your neck into your shoulder and arm (cervical radiculopathy) or down your leg, commonly called sciatica. The disc between your vertebrae can become weak or cracked and develop tears. The inner part of your disc called the nucleus pulpous can then push out through the outer part of the disc called the annulus and become a bulging or herniated disc that puts pressure on your spinal cord or exiting nerve.

What are the Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve?

The most common symptom of a pinched nerve is a tingling sensation, which can be accompanied by some numbness. This may initially come and go, but over time becomes persistent. The following are symptoms of a herniated disc:

  • Sharp or dull pain in the lower back which gets worse with physical activity such as lifting, bending, or as simple as coughing or sneezing.
  • Muscle spasms or cramping.
  • Sciatica (pain, burning, electrical, tingling, and numbness that extends from the buttock into the leg or foot).
  • Leg weakness or loss of leg function.

In severe cases, muscle weakness may occur because the nerve that controls the muscle has been irritated. If present and not identified and corrected, those muscles may decrease in size and function. If nerve compression goes untreated for a long time the protective area around the nerve can breakdown and cause swelling, severe inflammation and scarring. This can lead to peripheral neuropathy, carpal tunnel syndrome (arms) and severe pain.


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