Nerve compression, or a pinched nerve, happens to everyone in some form or another, so there is no way to completely prevent this condition. For example, if your foot or arm has ever “fallen asleep,” making you experience an uncomfortable pins and needles sensation for a few minutes, then you have dealt with a very minor type of nerve compression.
However, the pinched nerve prevention that most patients are looking for is to help prevent the more chronic condition of a pinched nerve from a displaced or inflamed bone, muscle, tendon or ligament. When this happens, symptoms of pain, tingling, numbness and muscles weakness will persist until the body heals itself or other steps are taken to correct the underlying issue.
Pinched nerves happen throughout the body, but one region where they are especially common is in the neck and back. A big reason for this is that the spine presents a combination of a large amount of nerves that are tightly packed with complex anatomy in the spinal canal. These parts of the spine are in turn prone to the degeneration and injury that can cause nerve compression.
Pinched nerve prevention, especially in the spine, is difficult because much of this deterioration and injury is due to the natural aging process. That being said, there are many lifestyle choices that can have a positive impact on your overall health and slow down the underlying causes of spinal nerve compression. First though, it can be helpful to get a brief overview of how pinched nerves develop in the neck and back.
How pinched spinal nerves are caused
To protect the spinal cord, support the upper body and still allow for movement, the spine must be hollow, rigid and flexible. This requires a lot of complex parts that work together in a very specific way. The main components — the vertebrae, joints and discs — that stack and connect together to form the spine are subject to a tremendous amount of pressure that is compounded by years of regular movement. This everyday wear-and-tear is a leading contributor to conditions like spinal arthritis or bulging and herniated discs that are the root causes of a pinched nerve in the spine.
Since the spine consists of so much tightly packed nervous tissue, it can take just a little bit of displacement from an arthritic bone spur or herniated disc material to interfere with the spinal cord or an exiting nerve root through the foraminal canal. While it may seem inevitable, the good news is that there are a number of doctor-recommended strategies that anyone can use to prevent painful nerve compression in the neck or back.
Lifestyle choices for pinched nerve prevention.
Since the natural aging process is the single leading cause of these spinal conditions, a pinched nerve prevention plan should include steps that can help to slow down the effects of aging. It also extremely important to avoid things that are known to speed up the negative impact of aging.
Here are some of the most common methods that many primary care physicians would recommend for pinched nerve prevention in the neck or back:
- Maintain a healthy weight — Pinched nerves are often caused by the large amount of pressure placed on the spine through everyday activity. Carrying extra weight only adds to the force put on the discs and joints from movement.
- Exercise regularly — Having a strong heart that can pump more regenerative nutrients to the spine, and building strong supporting muscles can help slow down the deterioration of the spine. Engaging in sensible, safe exercises multiple times a week for 20 – 30 minutes is a great way to accomplish this.
- Quit smoking — Smoking cigarettes reduces circulation, and the spine is an area that receives relatively weak circulation to begin with, resulting in this being an activity that can speed up the development of a pinched nerve.
- Maintain good posture and lifting technique — Sitting hunched over your desk for eight hours a day or walking with droopy shoulders puts the spine in positions that it was not designed to be in, adding extra pressure to certain areas of the spine. Simply being aware of your posture and body mechanics, especially when lifting heavy objects or engaging in repetitive motion, can remove a lot of extra weight from the spine and slow down the development of nerve compression.
Pinched nerve treatment
While a pinched nerve is not always reversible through lifestyle changes, these small changes can be very effective at managing symptoms. Most physicians will recommend a treatment plan that includes more conservative options like rest, anti-inflammatory medication or hot and cold compression therapy. Surgery for a pinched nerve is usually only considered when less invasive methods have been exhausted, usually after a period of weeks or months.
If you are considering traditional open surgery, but are worried about some of the risks, one option to go over with your doctor could be the minimally invasive spine surgery options that have become available in recent years.
These procedures can decompress pinched nerves in the spine using smaller incisions that reduce recovery time and may even eliminate the need for overnight hospitalization. Ask your doctor about the treatment options available to you and continue to research the advantages of minimally invasive spine surgery over traditional spine surgery for a pinched nerve.