If anything applies too much pressure on a nerve — including cartilage, muscles, tendons, bone spurs, or the material oozing out from a herniated disc — it interferes with the nerve’s function and causes an array of unpleasant symptoms. When this happens, the nerve is said to be “pinched.”
Pinched nerves are common, affecting 85 out of 100,000 American adults every year. And though it can happen at any age, it’s more common in those over 50 because of arthritis and age-related degenerative disc disease in the spine.
At Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center in College Park and the Sandy Springs area of Atlanta, as well as Bethlehem, Georgia, our diverse team of expert physicians knows how uncomfortable a pinched nerve can be. That’s why we offer a full range of testing and treatment for pinched nerves, so you can move on with your life.
A pinched nerve displays similar warning signs no matter where in the body it’s located. These include:
If you have a pinched nerve only for a limited time, there's usually no permanent damage. If the doctor removes the impinging structure, the nerve’s function returns to normal.
However, if the pressure continues, it can lead to long-term, chronic pain and weakness along the nerve’s path, and it may cause permanent damage. That’s why you should always get medical attention as soon as possible.
A pinched nerve is often associated with the spine, either the cervical spine (neck) or lumbar spine (lower back). In both of these areas, the impingement may result from pressure on the nerve root of a spinal nerve as it exits the spinal column.
Some sources of impingement include herniated discs, bone spurs on the vertebrae of the spine, degenerative disc disease, arthritis, and spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal canal. The pain often radiates from the cervical or lumbar spine into the extremities, a condition known as radiculopathy.
A prime example of lumbar radiculopathy is sciatica, a common condition where the nerve root between the L4-L5 vertebrae becomes pinched, sending pain through the buttocks and down the outside of your leg.
Not all pinched nerves are located in the spine. Peripheral neuropathy, tennis elbow, and carpal tunnel syndrome all cause numbness, pain, and tingling in nerves in the extremities. In the case of carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive motion causes a narrowing of the carpal tunnel in the wrist, which compresses the median nerve.
Treatment for your pinched nerve depends on the root cause of the problem. At Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center, we offer a number of options, always starting with the conservative choices.
Physical therapy is a good option if a muscle impinges on a nerve. During your PT sessions, you learn to perform stretching and strengthening exercises that release the muscle’s tension. Your therapist also creates a personalized exercise program you can do at home, and they modify any day-to-day activities you perform that aggravate your nerve pain.
For an ESI, your physician injects a steroid into the epidural space in the spine that reduces inflammation, thereby relieving the pressure and pain caused by the pinched nerve. ESIs aren’t a painful treatment, and you should begin to see results in a few days to a week.
We can use ESIs as a primary treatment or in combination with physical therapy if the therapy doesn’t provide enough relief on its own.
PT and EPIs are great if you’ve recently developed a pinched nerve, but if you’ve been suffering from chronic pain for more than a year without relief, we may recommend an implanted SCS that delivers mild electrical currents to the nerves in your spinal column, interrupting the pain signals they’re sending to your brain.
We only recommend surgery if none of the above treatments are effective, and the specific type depends on the underlying cause of the pinched nerve.
If you’re experiencing any of the warning signs of a pinched nerve, come to Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center for an evaluation. The earlier we can diagnose your condition, the more effective treatment is likely to be. Give us a call at any of our offices, or request an appointment online today.