Pinched nerve is a common term for nerve compression, which occurs when any nerve running throughout the body has pressure placed on it by another part — usually a muscle, bone or piece of connective tissue. Because the nerves are responsible for sending and receiving sensory and motor information between the brain and the rest of the body, a pinched nerve can be a painful, debilitating condition for those affected.
Pinched nerves can develop throughout the body and be caused by a number of underlying conditions, especially from an injury in the neck or back. If you are suffering from neck or back pain that has affected your life, knowing more about the specific causes of a pinched nerve from injury can be beneficial in helping you find the best treatment.
How a pinched nerve from injury happens in the spine
The reason why neck and back injuries are so common is that the human spine is intricately constructed to support the entire weight of the upper body. The parts of the spine work together to protect the spinal cord as it travels from the brain to the rest of the body, but must be able to bend and flex to allow basic movement.
To accomplish this, the spine is constructed out of a stack of bones called vertebrae, connected by joints and cushioned by rubbery discs which rest between each individual vertebra. Because there are so many nerves tightly packed into this relatively delicate structure, it’s likely for an injury to displace spinal anatomy, which may press onto the spinal cord or an exiting nerve root.
What kind of injuries cause a pinched nerve
The types of injuries that lead to spinal nerve compression can range from repetitive motion injuries from work or sports to a traumatic injury like a car accident. A repetitive motion injury doesn’t typically occur instantly but adds to the everyday wear and tear that comes with the natural aging process.
Jobs that require repeated bending and twisting, such as those in the mechanical, construction or manufacturing professions, are especially prone to the development of spinal disc or joint problems that can lead to a pinched nerve.
Additionally, some of the following sports and activities also place repeated stress on the spine:
- Running or jogging
Whether you are working or playing sports, it is important to maintain good posture, use proper body mechanics, keep strong core muscles and manage your weight to have the best chance of preventing a repetitive motion injury to the spine.
Other major causes of spinal nerve compression related to injury include automobile collisions, work or home accidents or high-impact sports like football. In contrast to repetitive motion injuries, trauma to the spine usually happens at the time of impact. However, symptoms can sometimes be delayed for long periods, even weeks or months, since weakened spinal anatomy might take time to deteriorate to the point of pinched nerve development.
Treating a pinched nerve from injury
The best course of treatment for a pinched nerve from injury is going to depend on the situation. Traumatic injuries may require immediate attention from an emergency room or intensive care unit at a hospital.
In situations where immediate attention isn’t required for a car accident or workplace injury, the first source of care may still be dictated by the car insurance company or workers’ compensation claim manager. In these cases, or minor situations that begin in a family doctor’s office, nonsurgical treatment is first attempted.
Typical therapeutic options include:
- Hot and cold compression therapy
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Physical therapy
- Massage therapy
- Epidural steroid injections
If surgery looks like an option when weeks or months of pain management hasn’t provided relief, patients should know about the full range of surgical options. A traditional open spine surgical procedure to decompress a pinched nerve typically involves a large incision that cuts and tear supportive muscles. These procedures also require hospitalization and lengthy rehabilitation periods for patients.
Minimally invasive procedures to decompress spinal nerves address many of the concerns that doctors and patients have about back surgery. During minimally invasive spine surgery, surgeons use small, muscle-sparing incisions to access the spine and remove the damaged tissue that is causing nerve compression.
When compared to open spine surgery, a smaller incision means a shorter recovery time and less scarring, as well as a lower risk of infection when performed in an outpatient setting. If you are considering surgery for a pinched nerve, ask your doctor or specialist about your potential candidacy for minimally invasive spine surgery.