A pinched nerve is a painful, debilitating condition that no one wants to have, but if you do, you want to know about it as soon as possible. With any condition, identifying and diagnosing it early on is a very important part of getting effective treatment for lasting pain relief. Learning to recognize pinched nerve warning signs can help you avoid worsening your condition before you meet with your doctor to begin a treatment regimen.
Pinched nerve development
A pinched nerve happens whenever another part of the body, usually something like a strained muscle, sprained ligament or sometimes a fractured bone, compresses on a nerve and causes pain and discomfort. This can happen very easily in the neck or back where the nerves in the spine travel out from the brain to the rest of the body. A pinched nerve in the spine often occurs from age-related deterioration related to one of the following conditions:
- Bulging and herniated discs
- Bone spurs
- Spinal arthritis
- Spinal stenosis
- Degenerative disc disease
These conditions can occur without necessarily causing symptoms. Most patients will not become aware of any deterioration in the spine until it starts to compress the tightly packed nerves that run through the spine. If your doctor brings these conditions to your attention before symptoms are experienced, it’s one of the best pinched nerve warning signs you can get. In many cases though, this only happens from noticing them on an x-ray for an unrelated condition.
Another potential way to become more aware of a developing pinched nerve is to know about some of the activities or lifestyle choices that can cause them. While everyone does have to deal with the body’s aging process, there are many things that can speed it along.
Being overweight, smoking, having bad posture and engaging in contact sports like football all contribute to a higher risk of developing a pinched nerve in the spine. These factors, combined with the development of symptoms, are common pinched nerve warning signs.
Pinched nerve symptoms
One of the reasons why pinched nerves are difficult to diagnose is because the worst symptoms don’t always occur at the site of the compression. Pinched nerves can cause symptoms to radiate along the nerve to other parts of the body. So, if nerve compression occurs in the lower back, it can cause symptoms of burning pain, tingling, numbness and muscle weakness to radiate down to the hips, buttocks and legs. A pinched nerve in the neck, meanwhile, generally causes these symptoms to be experienced in the shoulders, arms and out to the hands.
If you find yourself dealing with unexplained numbness or a “pins and needles” sensation in the extremities, it could be a pinched nerve warning sign. It’s extremely important to act as early as possible when you notice any symptoms, even if they aren’t necessarily painful. Beyond potentially leading to pain, nerve compression can also lead to permanent nerve damage if it remains untreated.
What to do when you feel pinched nerve warning signs
For any symptoms that do not go away after a couple of days, you should schedule a visit with your primary care physician for diagnosis and treatment. Your doctor can review your medical history, give you a full physical examination and possibly order diagnostic imagery like an x-ray to identify whether a pinched nerve is the cause of any symptoms. After a diagnosis is made, pinched nerve symptoms can be successfully treated in many cases with some of the following methods:
- Intermittent periods of rest
- Alternating hot and cold compression packs
- Over-the-counter or prescription medication
- Massage therapy
- Physical therapy
- Epidural steroid injections
For symptoms that persist after weeks and months of conservative treatment, surgery may become the best choice to treat the underlying causes of pinched nerves. Spine surgery can decompress a pinched nerve by removing the part of the spine that is causing the compression. Many doctors and patients have traditionally been hesitant about some of the risks and difficulties that go with open back surgery, like scarring and long recuperation periods.
However, advances in the last decade have made more minimally invasive approaches to the spine possible. These surgical techniques can make it easier to access the spine for nerve decompression, while avoiding the need for large, muscle-severing incisions. If you have been worried about the prospect of open back surgery, looking into these techniques with your doctor may be beneficial to your treatment plan.