Muscle spasm and pinched nerves: differences and causes

Neck or back pain can make life unbearable. One of the most painful symptoms related to neck or back pain is muscle spasm. These are involuntary muscle contractions that result in sharp pain and impaired movement.

If you have been diagnosed with a pinched nerve in the spine and are experiencing painful muscle cramps, you might be wondering if these are related or separate conditions. Only a licensed medical professional, such as your primary physician, can diagnose the root cause of any symptoms.

Independent research can help you find useful information before your appointment so you can ask questions and better understand your doctor’s answers. This knowledge can help you make treatment decisions with a better chance of getting you back to a more pain-free life.

Your neck or back pain: muscle spasm versus pinched nerve

A pinched, or compressed, nerve in the spine is one cause of muscle spasms in the neck or back, but it isn’t the only one. Spasms can also happen from dehydration, fatigue or strained muscles. Spine conditions — like a herniated disc or arthritic bone spur — that narrow the spine and put pressure on the nerves can also interfere with normal muscle functioning, causing them to spasm.

When pinched nerves in the spine cause radiating symptoms — including muscle spasms — in other parts of the body, the location of symptoms will usually depend on where the pinched nerve is. The regions of the spine and potential location of muscle spasms are:

  • Cervical — The upper spine, running from the base of the skull through the neck. Muscle spasms from a pinched nerve could be experienced in the neck, shoulders and arms.
  • Thoracic — The middle spine is less vulnerable to spine conditions that cause pinched nerves because it is fixed to the ribcage. If they do occur, spasms and shooting pain can travel around to the chest and abdominal region.
  • Lumbar — The lower spine is a common source of nerve compression because of the combination of supporting the upper body while remaining flexible. In addition to causing local lower back spasms, a pinched nerve here can also affect the hips, buttocks and legs.

Diagnosis and treatment

It is never recommended to self-diagnose and treat the source of any severe pain. Make an appointment with your doctor or back specialist to get an examination and diagnostic imagery to pinpoint the source of any symptoms. Common initial treatments for muscle spasms and pinched nerves include massage therapy, light stretching and over-the-counter or prescription pain medication.

If you are considering surgical options to relieve muscle spasms and other pain from a pinched nerve because weeks and months of conservative treatment have not brought relief, make sure to research the full range of surgical options. In addition to traditional open spine surgery, there are also state-of-the-art minimally invasive spine procedures that offer many advantages, including shorter recovery times.

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