A pinched nerve happens in the spine when any of the components, such as a disc or joint, compress nerve tissue like the spinal cord or an exiting nerve root. The spinal discs that cushion the vertebrae and allow for movement in the back are especially vulnerable to the bulging and herniation that can lead to pinched nerves.
Bulging discs are a common condition, affecting millions with pain, tingling, numbness and muscle weakness both locally and radiating to the upper or lower body. If you have been suffering from these painful symptoms for months or years, getting good information about causes and effective treatment is an important step to finding relief that can get you back to doing the things you love.
How bulging discs happen
The spine has two main jobs: protecting the spinal cord and supporting the weight of the upper body. Because the spine needs to be flexible and strong, the vertebrae are cushioned by rubbery discs. The discs rest between each vertebra and absorb the shock of movement from everyday activities like walking or working in the yard.
To do this, a disc is made of a jellylike interior protected by a fibrous outer layer that work together to bounce back from up, down and side-to-side pressure. It is possible for a disc to lose its shape and elasticity, which can cause it to bulge out from between the surrounding vertebrae.
There are a number of causes for a bulging disc, including:
- Degeneration due to the natural aging process
- Wear and tear from repetitive motions
- Traumatic injury like an automobile accident
A bulging disc usually does not cause symptoms unless the displaced part of the disc pinches a nerve by narrowing the spinal canal or the openings that the nerve roots travel out of.
Treatment options for a pinched nerve from a bulging disc
Upon diagnosis, most doctors will treat nerve compression from a bulging disc with standard pain relief methods that generally reduce the severity of symptoms. Rest, exercise, over-the-counter medicine and lifestyle changes like weight loss are commonly prescribed treatments for patients who have become debilitated by chronic pinched nerve pain.
In certain situations, surgery can be effective in decompressing a pinched nerve caused by a bulging disc, but open back surgery is generally seen as a last resort treatment due to some of the difficulties and associated risks.
For patients considering surgical options, there are a number of surgeons who can perform a minimally invasive decompression spine surgery using a small incision that doesn’t require supporting muscles to be severed.
For severely deteriorated discs that require full removal and fusing of surrounding vertebrae, there are facilities that perform minimally invasive fusion procedures. If you are exploring surgery as a treatment for neck or back pain, make sure your doctor or spine specialist is aware of the full range of options available to you.