When people think about treating a pinched nerve in the spine, they might first think of conventional treatments like open back surgery. However, a large number of patients are able to find effective pain relief that can get them back to a more active life through nonsurgical remedies. Understanding what causes a pinched nerve and the alternative treatments available for this condition may help you avoid unnecessary worry about spine surgery.

A pinched nerve can happen in the spine when any material — like a disc or bone spur — causes narrowing in the spine that compresses a nerve. Upon diagnosis, most physicians will recommend a course of conservative treatments like medication, rest and physical therapy.

While these methods can be highly effective, there are also a large number of pinched nerve alternative treatments that some patients, and even physicians, are starting to explore. Reasons for seeking alternative treatments can range from personal beliefs to a patient feeling like they’ve run out of options.

While these therapies do generally fall outside the medical mainstream, it is still highly advisable to stay in partnership with your primary care doctor if you do decide to explore any of these options. Even if some of these methods aren’t recommended by your physician, it is still possible to make them complementary to a comprehensive care plan that can significantly relieve the symptoms of a spinal pinched nerve. The following is an overview of some specific pinched nerve alternative treatments that have helped some patients find pain relief.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a practice of eastern medicine that uses the insertion of needles into specific points of the body with the aim of relieving pain. There is some evidence that this can be an effective treatment for conditions like a pinched nerve in the spine when combined with other more conventional methods. It is extremely important to seek out a trained professional who uses properly sterilized needles in order to avoid infection.

Chiropractic care

A chiropractor specializes in making adjustments to the muscular and skeletal system, particularly the spine, to bring it into better alignment. Many patients with spine conditions, including pinched nerves, seek out a chiropractor to manipulate and potentially decompress nerves in the back. It is important to note that chiropractic medicine, like all other conservative and alternative treatments, cannot treat the underlying causes of pinched nerves in the spine, but there is a high level of reported symptom relief.

Chiropractic care is an established field with accredited schools and license-granting boards. In some cases, doctors will give referrals to a chiropractor, or you can ask your primary care physician for a recommendation.

Yoga

Yoga originates in India and is a system of deep breathing and poses that are designed to stretch and strengthen the muscles, as well as bring the practitioner to a closer relationship with the body. From a practical standpoint, yoga can be an extremely effective form of exercise that can potentially bring relief to compressed nerves by strengthening important supporting muscles.

It can also lead to improved posture and a better understanding of pain triggers from paying attention to movements and sensations. If you have been diagnosed with a pinched nerve from a spine condition, always make sure you are medically cleared to participate in exercise programs.

Herbal remedies

Also called herbalism, the practice of using plant-based medicine for pain relief is very old and is the basis of modern pharmacology. Trained practitioners are called herbalists. While herbal medicine takes a less scientific and more traditional approach than mainstream medicine, there is some evidence that supports the use of certain plants as anti-inflammatories and pain relievers. Here are some options recommended by herbalists, and even some medical doctors, for pain relief from a pinched nerve:

  • Ginger
  • John’s Wort
  • Turmeric
  • Cherries

Always be extremely careful when using herbal remedies as there is no regulatory body to test for effectiveness or potential side effects. Seek out a reputable herbalist who can tell you about proper preparations, dosages and potential side effects of any herbal remedy you are seeking for pinched nerve pain. If you are taking any other medication, always check with a doctor or pharmacist to ensure there are no negative interactions between the herb and your current medication.

Therapeutic touch

Another pinched nerve alternative treatment that some patients are turning to is therapeutic touch. This practice uses gentle touching and sometimes no skin contact at all to redirect energy toward healing. While this is an alternative treatment with little support from the medical and scientific community, some patients do report feeling physical and psychological comfort from receiving this therapy.

Next steps

Combining pinched nerve alternative treatments with more conventional therapies can be very effective and has been shown to bring lasting relief to a large number of patients. However, if you’ve been through weeks or months of conservative treatment and are still suffering from pain related to spinal nerve compression, it might be time for you and your doctor to discuss back surgery. The goal of spine surgery is to decompress nerves by removing any spinal tissue, like a bone spur or part of a disc, which is causing painful symptoms.

Surgery generally has positive outcomes for patients, especially since it is one of the few forms of treatment that looks to correct a spine condition at the source of the problem. Traditionally, open back surgery has required large incisions to access the spine and decompress the nerve, resulting in overnight hospitalization and a fairly long recuperation period.

However, in the last decade, advances in technology have made a more minimally invasive approach to spine surgery possible. These procedures can use much smaller, muscle-sparing incisions which can dramatically shorten the recovery time for patients, among other benefits. If you are considering open back surgery, ask your doctor about the full range of options, including minimally invasive spine procedures.