What is a ‘pinched nerve’?
A ‘pinched nerve’ is a condition where the spinal nerve is trapped or pinched in the spine causing lower back and leg pain. The medical term for a pinched nerve is ‘sciatica’ or ‘radiculopathy’. This usually presents with pain shooting down the back of your leg. It also causes pins and needles, numbness or weakness in your leg. So, a ‘pinched nerve’ can cause sciatica.
What causes a pinched nerve?
The soft cushions between the bones of the spine called ‘discs’ bulges out and irritates the nerves coming out of your spine. This bulging of the disc is called ‘prolapse’. The disc prolapse touches your spinal nerve and ‘pinches’ it.
The spinal nerves do not like anyone touching or pinching it. It gets annoyed and you feel it in the form of back and leg pain. Normally the disc is very far away from the nerve.
Facet joints are small joints in your spine that connect your spine together. The ‘wear and tear’ with the movement on these joints during walking, running, sitting and standing causes inflammation.
The inflammation releases chemical substances that irritates the spinal nerve coming out of the spine. The irritated spinal nerve behaves like a trapped or ‘pinched’ nerve.
Spinal stenosis causes a ‘pinched nerve’ as your spinal nerve travels out of the spinal canal. Spinal Stenosis is a narrowing of your spinal canal and the narrowed portion of the canal squeezes and traps the spinal nerve.
Pinched nerve symptoms are caused by pressure on the spinal nerve as it gets trapped in your spine. Spinal Stenosis occurs due to wear and tear of your as age advances.
Sacroiliac joint is the link that connects your spine with the pelvis and hips. Sacroiliac joints are important in all the movements of your back and leg. The spinal nerve coming out of the spine travels in front of the sacroiliac joint.
The sacroiliac joint joint gets inflamed due to overactivity and pinches the spinal nerve causing a ‘pinched nerve’ in your back.
Piriformis is a muscle that is deep in your buttock. Piriformis muscles lies on top of the spinal nerves that comes out of your spine. Due to our bad posture and the way we sit and walk, it goes into a spasm.
Piriformis muscle spasm traps your spinal nerve. The trapped spinal nerve is behaves like a pinched in your back causing back and leg pain.
What does a pinched nerve in the lower back feel like?
These are the common symptoms:
- Muscle spasm in the back with a knot like feeling.
- Sharp shooting or burning pain along the leg
- Pins & needles and tingling sensation called paraesthesia
- Numbness and decreased sensation along the nerve
- Muscle weakness
- Frequent feeling that your foot has gone to sleep
How long does a pinched nerve in your back last?
Most of the time your symptoms should resolve in 6-10 weeks. The inflammation around the nerve reduces with time. But in some instances, the symptoms can progress and cause loss of sensation and weakness of the leg.
How do you get rid of a pinched nerve in your lower back?
These are the 5 simple ways to get rid of your pinched nerve symptoms in your back.
REDUCE NORMAL PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
Stop physical activity only for a few days.
Bed rest for more than 3 days will worsen your the back pain.
Just a few days rest will help calm your pinched nerve more rest is bad for back pain and sciatica.
This will give you the confidence to move around as the pain due to the ‘pinched nerve’ will be well under control.
APPLY HEAT OR ICE TO YOUR BACK
Heat and Ice control your pinched nerve symptoms. Some are comfortable with a hot water bottle as it helps muscles to relax.
But others find a cold compress useful as it reduces the inflammation.
Choose what you feel that is comfortable for you. Both methods give the same result.
Do not use them for more than 5 minutes at a time.
OVER THE COUNTER PAIN MEDICATIONS
Anti-inflammatory gel or ointment that can be applied over the painful area.
This is a very safe practice and it also helps to massage the area over your back gently to relieve the pain. It works directly over the pinched nerve. The side-effects are far less than oral medications.
Commonly used over the counter pain medications for pinched nerve are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Paracetamol and Neurofen (Brufen).
Mild stretches loosens your tense back muscles due to pinched nerve and strengthens other muscles to help you move.
Perform these stretches gently as it can cause damage to these muscles.
These stretches are simple with gentle forward bending, backward bending and mild twisting within the limit of your pain.
IMPROVE YOUR POSTURE
We all spend most of your time sitting down. This may be during eating, reading, watching TV or at work.
Your posture may be more harmful than you realise and contributes to the pinched nerve symptoms.
Change your posture, pay a little attention and make sure that your back are lined up nicely in a straight line while standing, sitting and during all the activities of daily living.
Do pinched nerves go away on their own?
Our body has great healing capacity and our natural response to pain is to take rest. Resting relaxes the muscles, nerves and tissues around your spine and therefore there is a little irritation of the nerve from the soft tissues. Most back and leg pain due to a pinched nerve recovers gradually.
It may take up to 6 weeks for full recovery from the symptoms of the of the pinched nerve. Usually rest medication and gentle stretching exercises are enough.
What is the best treatment for a pinched nerve in your back?
The best treatment for pinched nerve is to try all those simple methods and exercises at home. Most of the time with these measures, the pinched nerve symptoms goes away and there is complete relief of pain in 4-6 weeks depending on the severity.
However, if you are still suffering from the symptoms you may need a spine injection in your back close to the pinched nerve and this will relieve your back and leg pain immediately.
What are the best exercises for pinched nerve in your back?
Can you massage out a pinched nerve?
Having a gentle massage will greatly help in relaxing the muscle spasm caused by the pinched nerve. A whole body massage may be useful for relaxation. However a deep tissue massage might harm your muscles, make the spasm worse. The already trapped and pinched nerve will further be damaged making your back pain worse with numbness and weakness in your legs.
Can a chiropractor fix a pinched nerve?
Chiropractic manipulation for a pinched nerve in your back is by re-aligning your spine and releasing the trapped nerve. Chiropractors believe that there are so many stress factors that can cause a pinched nerve, and they aim to reduce that stress to treat pinched nerves as well as prevent them.
What happens if you let a pinched nerve go untreated?
Pinched nerve is a trapped nerve. It means that your nerve is squeezed under constant pressure as it comes out of your spine. The pain from the nerves and tissues gradually reduces as the nerve stops to function. There is total numbness of your leg and you cannot feel your leg. If this is allowed to continue, you will find that your leg becomes weak and you tend to limp while walking.
So it is not a good idea to let a pinched nerve go untreated.
What kind of doctor do you see for a pinched nerve?
You will need to consult a Spine Surgeon with knowledge, skill and experience in this area. He or She should have the best specialist and advanced training in Spine Surgery to release your trapped nerve by microsurgery if necessary. These are one of the best spine surgeons who work in major teaching hospitals and will have the skill and capability to help you.