Pinched nerves are wide-ranging conditions that can happen almost anywhere in the body and can be caused by a large number of underlying factors. Because of this, ranges for pinched nerve healing time can be equally wide. A pinched nerve is basically any nerve that becomes compressed by another tissue in the body — like a muscle, bone or ligament — and causes pain, discomfort and limited mobility. In some of the most minor cases, like if a nerve is compressed by a strained muscle from a minor sports injury, healing time can be as short as a few days.
Pinched nerves in the neck or back, however, are generally much more chronic and can take months to heal. Some of the underlying conditions are more or less permanent and require more serious treatments, even surgery, to sufficiently reduce symptoms. To get a better idea of how different spinal conditions affect pinched nerve healing time, it can be helpful to go over how the spine is constructed and why this particular region is so prone to nerve compression.
How spinal nerves become pinched
The natural aging process is something everyone faces and it happens to every part of the body, including the spine. In order to both protect the spinal cord and support the upper body while still allowing for movement, the spine is constructed in a very specific way that makes it especially prone to degeneration.
The individual vertebrae are connected with joints and separated by cushiony discs that allow the spine to bend and flex. The spinal cord and the nerve roots that branch off are packed very tightly into this construction, and if any of the other spinal anatomy becomes displaced a little bit, a pinched nerve can result.
Spinal conditions that are common causes of nerve compression include:
- Bone spurs from arthritis
- Herniated discs
- Bulging discs
Pinched nerve treatments
A primary care physician should always be the first place to go for diagnosis, treatment and information on pinched nerve healing time. Once the underlying cause of painful symptoms has been identified, like nerve compression from a herniated disc, for example, a treatment plan can be prescribed. Conservative options are almost always attempted for a pinched nerve before surgery, with many patients finding at least an acceptable level of pain relief.
In fact, closely following a plan that includes methods like rest, medication and light exercise can bring about a return to normal activity. Some of the less severe causes of nerve compression in the spine can heal to a degree that the nerve does effectively become decompressed.
In other cases however, weeks and months of conservative treatment may go by and pinched nerve symptoms are still strong enough to be considered debilitating. This is usually when a doctor will approach the subject of back surgery to treat a pinched nerve in the spine.
There are a number of methods and individual procedures that are used to decompress a nerve. While traditionally, neck or back surgery has required large incisions to access the problem area of the spine, there are also minimally invasive procedures that use smaller incisions. With any pinched nerve surgery, the goal is always to access the spine and remove the tissue that is interfering with the nerve, which should result in the decompression of the pinched nerve.
Pinched nerve healing time after surgery
Typically, any recovery after surgery is generally related to the surgery itself. With traditional open back surgery, this recovery process can be long and sometimes just as painful as the nerve compression it’s supposed to treat. For many procedures, it can be as long as three months, and sometimes much longer, before a return to full activity occurs. It is important to follow postoperative instructions carefully in order to keep your recovery period as short and as safe as possible.
One of the goals of minimally invasive spine surgery is to keep the recovery process as short and pain free as possible. Since this type of procedure uses a smaller, muscle-sparing incision to access the spine and decompress the nerve, there is less healing time required. In some cases, patients will be up and walking around within hours after surgery.
Typical time periods for a full recovery can be as short as six weeks, but outcomes will vary depending on individual situations. Following your surgeon’s postsurgical instructions is just as important for the recovery process as it is in any kind of surgery.
If you are concerned about reducing pinched nerve healing time and it looks like surgery is your best option, ask your doctor about the minimally invasive alternatives to traditional spine surgery that are available to you.