“Pinched nerve” is a general term referring to any nerve placed under pressure. Common symptoms are pain, tingling and numbness that can occur directly at the site of compression or travel down the length of the nerve as radiating symptoms. The compression itself can be caused by a muscle, ligament or bone that has become displaced due to a range of issues including injury, repetitive motion, or even just sitting or sleeping in a strange position.
One underlying cause that leads to millions of pinched nerve cases is obesity. Even being moderately overweight puts extra pressure on the body, especially the joints and connective tissue that can pinch nerves if they deteriorate and become displaced. While a pinched nerve from weight can happen anywhere, millions of patients suffer from nerve compression that originates somewhere in the spine, as this region is particularly vulnerable to breakdown due to excess pressure.
How a pinched nerve occurs in the spine
The spine houses the central spinal cord and the nerve roots that branch off at each segment, traveling throughout the body to give feeling and allow for movement. In addition to protecting a very large portion of the nervous system, the spine also supports the upper body and head. To do this, the spine is made up of a series of stacked bones, discs and other connective tissues that are both strong and flexible.
But, like every other area of the body, the spine is also prone to break down over time; mostly from a combination of the natural aging process and wear from years of bending and flexing. Since there are so many nerves packed tightly into the spinal column, normal degeneration of spinal parts can very easily cause pinched nerves.
Developing a pinched nerve from weight
Carrying extra weight adds to the pressure placed upon the spine and can speed up natural degeneration. While there is no guarantee that being overweight or obese will cause a pinched nerve, it can be a significant contributing factor. For example, many degenerative spine conditions — such as herniated discs or arthritis — aren’t painful by themselves. They have to cause enough narrowing of the spinal canal to compress a nerve. A pinched nerve from weight can happen when carrying extra weight; even an extra 10 to 20 pounds adds just enough pressure for a herniated disc to compress a nerve.
Lifestyle changes for treatment
The good news is that while many people do struggle with weight loss, it is still something you have control over. Whether you have been diagnosed with a pinched nerve and are trying to relieve symptoms or you are trying to stop another one from developing or prevent nerve compression altogether, following a weight loss plan that includes good nutrition and exercise can be an effective preventative course.
Consulting with your primary care physician is always recommended when developing a weight-loss plan, even if you are in good health. Your doctor is a qualified medical professional with knowledge of your medical history and should have sound advice about a plan that is safe and effective for your situation.
If you have been diagnosed with a pinched nerve in the spine, this is even more important, as overexertion from exercise could make your condition worse. Some of the elements you may see in a mainstream diet and exercise plan as recommended by a physician include:
- Limit overall caloric intake
- Replace simple carbohydrates like sugar with fruits, vegetables and whole grains
- Reduce intake of saturated and trans fats, certain kinds of cholesterol and sodium
- Eat a diet rich in essential vitamins and minerals
- Follow a balanced exercise plan that develops both the cardiovascular and muscular systems
If you have a pinched nerve from weight, shedding those extra pounds can also be an end to itself, leading to a number of other health benefits beyond relief of your symptoms. However, you may find that you have taken the necessary lifestyle steps and exhausted all other treatment options recommended by your doctor, yet still find yourself dealing with debilitating pain.
Is surgery a viable option for lasting pain relief from a pinched nerve? Although most doctors see back surgery as a last-resort option due to the highly invasive nature of most procedures, the biggest benefit is that surgery can correct a pinched nerve from weight at the source.
If you are considering surgery, there are newer, minimally invasive spine procedures that can reduce many of the negatives — scarring, long recovery times — that make back surgery seem like a scary choice. Ask your doctor for recommendations, but don’t be afraid to look into the full range of options on your own as well.