Pinched Nerves: What Patients Need to Know
A pinched nerve typically occurs when surrounding tissues such as disc, bone, cartilage, or joints compress against your nerve in the spinal column. This pressure disrupts the nerve’s function and can lead to painful and debilitating symptoms. A pinched nerve can occur in many areas of the body, but it most frequently occurs in the spine due to its complex structure with many nerves contained in a closed space.
How Do Pinched Nerves Feel?
Most pinched nerves occur in the cervical and lumbar regions of the spine. Pinched nerves can cause patients to feel various degrees of pain, tingling, numbness or weakness, due to disrupted nerve function. These symptoms tend to occur along the pathway of the pinched nerve. When a nerve is pinched in the low back, the resulting shooting pain down the leg is referred to as sciatica. Other common symptoms of pinched nerves include:
- Sharp, aching, or burning pain that radiates outward from the affected area into the buttocks and legs, or through the neck, shoulders, arms, and fingers
- A “pins and needles” sensation
- Numbness or decreased sensation in the affected area
- Muscle weakness in the affected area
How are Pinched Nerves Diagnosed?
A spine expert can usually diagnose a pinched nerve based on a patient’s history and physical examination. Diagnostic tests can identify the exact source and severity of a pinched nerve. The following tests can prove helpful in diagnosing a pinched nerve.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): The most common and useful tests in diagnosing a pinched nerve are lumbar or cervical MRI scans. An MRI uses radio waves in a magnetic field to provide detailed views inside the body, informing the doctor if there is any nerve compression.
- Electromyography (EMG) and Nerve Conduction Studies: This test evaluates the electrical activity of the muscles and sensory nerves letting spine doctors know if there is any problem with the nerves as they travel down our arms and legs. This test is frequently over-utilized and is usually not necessary when the MRI scan identifies a pinched nerve. EMG studies can accurately diagnose neuropathies (problems internal to the nerves) and when a nerve is pinched outside of the spine, as seen in carpal tunnel syndrome.
- X-rays and CAT Scans: While an MRI is the best test for viewing nerves, CAT scans and X-rays are better at viewing the bones of the spine. For instance, a bony problem such as a bone spur is better seen with a CAT scan. X-rays can assess how the bones are moving when patients are standing and bending. In some cases, the bones are moving abnormally (called instability) and can lead to pinching of the nerves.
For more information on how to receive an accurate pinched nerve diagnosis, contact the board-certified doctors at New Jersey Spine Specialists.
Do Pinched Nerves Go Away on Their Own?
In many cases, the pressure on the nerve is only temporary and the symptoms resolve on their own or with basic treatment such as physical therapy, chiropractic care, and medications. If the pressure on the nerve is constant or severe, additional treatments such as epidural injections or surgical decompression may be necessary.
How Long Does a Pinched Nerve Last?
The most common form of a pinched nerve typically lasts anywhere between a few days to a few weeks. More significant cases can take months or even need surgery to resolve. Patients with symptoms of pinched nerves are typically counseled to remain generally active while avoiding strenuous activities that aggravate their symptoms. With the correct treatment, the pressure on the nerve can be relieved allowing the nerve function to return to normal.
How Do I Get Rid of a Pinched Nerve?
A board-certified spine specialist can make an accurate diagnosis and then recommend an assortment of different treatments to soothe painful symptoms associated with a pinched nerve. Treatment typically begins with the following:
- Specific types of Physical therapy, which address posture, core strength, and muscle balance. These treatments strengthen and stretch the muscles in the affected area in an attempt to relieve pressure on the affected nerves.
- Medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), gabapentinoids (nerve pain medications), analgesics, and steroids may be used to relieve pain
- Chiropractic care
If a pinched nerve fails to respond to non-invasive treatments, your spine doctor may recommend a spinal injection known as an epidural steroid injection. This procedure is done under x-rays guidance and involves injecting a steroid medication around the nerve in an attempt to relieve inflammation and swelling.
However, some patients may begin experiencing severe pain, which does not respond to non-operative treatments. In those situations, surgical intervention is carried out to decompress the pinched nerve. This may include removing bone spurs, herniated disc material, or any other source of the compression on the nerve root. At the New Jersey Spine Specialists, most of these procedures can be resolved using state-of-the-art minimally invasive techniques tailored to each patient’s unique situation.
Treat Pinched Nerves at New Jersey Spine Specialists
By diagnosing and providing effective treatment options and compassionate care, patients of NJSS can begin to resume daily activities without painful symptoms from pinched nerves. The NJSS team also extends telemedicine services, which provides patients with real‐time, two‐way communication through secure online virtual sessions.
To learn how to manage your symptoms from your pinched nerve, contact the board-certified doctors at New Jersey Spine Specialists today. By calling our offices in Summit and Montclair at 908 608-9619, patients in northern New Jersey can receive a comprehensive consultation, paired with an appropriate treatment plan from an award-winning, board-certified team.
* WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/guide/compressed-nerves
* Health Line: https://www.healthline.com/health/pinched-nerve-remedies