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What are Pinched Nerves in the Spine?

Dr. Ian Rodway, a fellowship trained spine surgeon, addresses pinched nerves in the spine:

Nerves are an important part of the nervous system, delivering signals throughout your body from the brain through the spinal cord.  Nerves can be compared to highways that deliver signals from the brain, through the spine, and out to your muscles, skin, and joints.

There are two types of nerves. The first are within the brain and spinal cord, which help comprise your central nervous system.  The second type of nerves are termed peripheral nerves, and although they begin at the spinal cord, these nerves spread throughout the body. The peripheral nerves are what allow signals to travel out to muscles, organs, and extremities.

How is a pinched nerve recognized?

In short, a pinched nerve is under pressure, usually from nearby bone or cartilage. If enough pressure is applied to the nerve, it will be unable to carry accurate signals to and from the brain. This often causes sensations like numbness, tingling, or pain.  Since nerves are an integral part of muscle movement, a pinched nerve can also result in loss of movement.

Since the central nervous system nerves run through the spine, pinched nerves commonly occur in the thoracic, lumbar, and cervical areas.  The spinal vertebrae surround and protect the nerve roots, but when a disc begins to bulge or slip the resulting pressure can cause nerves to fail.

How to treat a pinched nerve:

Pinched nerves in the neck are common and can cause pain, numbness, or weakness in the arm and even as far as the hand or fingers. Although sometimes caused by an injury, they often develop over time without an obvious injury. Because the symptoms radiate through the shoulders and arms, patients often believe they have a shoulder problem. Unfortunately, trying to treat the shoulder won’t work if the root of the problem is a pinched nerve in the spine.

If the pain is persistent, a history and physical can often differentiate between a shoulder and a neck issue, and may lead to further testing, such as an MRI. This will help provide an accurate diagnosis and recommendation by your specialist.

Nerves in the neck can be pinched acutely by herniated discs. More chronic onset of symptoms can be due to arthritis, and bone spurs that develop over time.
Treatment usually starts with anti-inflammatory medication and physical therapy to help realign the bone or cartilage that is adding pressure to the nerve.

Sometimes platelet injections or steroids can be injected strategically to treat radiating pain.  Surgery is only reserved for severe symptoms that persist despite conservative treatment.  If you are a good candidate for therapy or injections, those are almost always recommended before surgery.

At Beacon Orthopaedics, we offer comprehensive spinal diagnostic and treatment options, including x-ray and MRI, physical therapy, injections and ortho-biologics, and even surgical procedures all under one roof.