The human body has nerves that extend from your brain and travels through your spinal cord to several sites in the body. These nerves help to transmit important messages from the brain to every part of your body. Unfortunately, when too much pressure is applied on a nerve by its surrounding tissues, muscles, or bones, it can cause a pinched nerve in the back.
The usual symptom is excruciating pain when you have a pinched or compressed nerve in your back. The most affected area is the lower back, where numerous nerves pass through the spinal canal.
What Causes the Pain?
The pressure from the tissue, bone, or muscle can disrupt the function of the nerve and cause pain, numbness, or a burning or tingling feeling. In some cases, you may feel like pins and needles are pinching your back.
The pain that accompanies a pinched nerve is usually around the area of the nerve. For example, when you have a compressed nerve in your lower spine, you will feel pain in your back or leg.
Similarly, a pinched nerve in your wrist can cause pain and numbness in your fingers and hands (carpal tunnel syndrome). Luckily, getting a pinched nerve in your back isn’t usually a cause for concern. In most cases, the pain may reduce with time. What’s more? Certain exercises can reduce the pressure on a nerve and the pain in your back.
However, in some extreme cases, some patients may require surgery on the affected nerve. For a person to have help, it is necessary to visit a qualified and skilled Lower back pain specialist. This person will identify the cause of your pain and determine what type of treatment you need.
In some cases, if your condition is not too severe, you can receive treatment from a family doctor or by visiting a chiropractor. In this article, we’ll take you through the causes of pinched nerves in your back, how to treat them, and when to see a doctor.
13 Common Causes of a Pinched Nerve in the back
A pinched nerve is usually a result of too much pressure (compression) on a nerve by surrounding tissues.
Other causes of a pinched nerve in the back include:
1. Rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis can trigger inflammation in the joints, which pressures nearby nerves in the back, causing a pinched nerve.
2. Old age
Our muscles, tissues, and bones start to “wear and tear with age.” With time, the spinal discs can lose their moisture and flatten.
The bones in the spinal cord (vertebrae) move and brush against each other, resulting in the body having growth spurs of bone. These sudden bone growths, or spurs, can pinch nerves.
3. Sudden injury
Serious injury from sports or an accident can cause a pinched nerve.
4. Repetitive Movements
Moving your body in the same motion for long periods can cause stress on the nerves and lead to pinched nerves. For example, a cricketer that moves his hand repeatedly when he throws the ball is at risk for a pinched nerve in the back.
Lifting, twisting, pulling, and other awkward movements can cause a pinched nerve.
Excess weight can swell your nerve pathway, putting pressure on nerves.
Pregnancy usually comes with extra weight that can compress nerves and lead to painful nerves.
Too much sugar in your body can harm nerves and cause nerve dysfunction, or worse, damage your nerves.
8. Spinal stenosis
Spinal stenosis is an abnormal spinal column narrowing that pinches the nerves inside.
Arachnoiditis is a complication of meningitis that occurs when the arachnoid membrane surrounding the nerves in the spinal cord becomes irritated and inflamed, leading to a pinched nerve in the back.
10. Neurogenic claudication
Neurogenic claudication is a common symptom of the aging process that occurs when muscles lose muscle tone and become weak, causing blood to flow less freely. This, in turn, can cause pressure on nerves, causing a pinched nerve. Also known as heart block.
11. Herniated discs
A herniated disc is a condition in which a portion of one of the discs in the spine breaks down, sticking out of its surrounding bone and compressing the nerves inside.
12. Nerve root entrapment
Nerve root entrapment occurs when a nerve is compressed by the bone and ligaments of the spine, causing inflammation.
13. Spinal stenosis
Spinal stenosis is an abnormal spinal column narrowing that pinches the nerves inside. It usually occurs in older age groups due to calcium calcification in bones around the vertebrae.
Treatments for a Pinched Nerve
Pinched nerves aren’t a life-threatening condition. In most cases, you can recover from your pinched nerves with proper rest and other conservative treatments.
Pinched nerves can resolve within a few days or weeks.
Here are a few other treatments you can use to treat your pinched nerve.
Get sleep and rest
Sleep is your body’s way of rejuvenating itself. Sleep is also essential for healing pinched nerves. As your body restores itself during sleep, it also relieves pinched nerves in the affected areas. Most times, resting the affected area and getting extra sleep will be enough to allow the pinched nerve to heal itself.
Top tip: If you are resting to treat a pinched nerve, you must avoid overusing the nerve. For example, if you have a pinched nerve in your back, you should avoid sitting down or sleeping in awkward positions.
In many cases, you can worsen your pinched nerves with overuse. Try and find positions that do not add pressure on the affected nerve.
Change of posture
Poor posture can also cause a pinched nerve in the back. Sitting or standing with a poor posture for a long time can stress the body, damaging the spine and muscles and leading to a pinched nerve in the back.
You can use cushions, adjustable chairs, and neck rests may help relieve the pressure in the back and allow the nerve to heal.
Sitting in one position for long periods can contribute to a pinched nerve. If your job requires you to sit still, you can relieve the pinched nerve in your back by changing your workstation.
For example, using a standing workbench may help your posture and reduce back pain by making your spine move and be flexible. Using an ergonomic keyboard or mouse, you can also prevent pinched nerves, which may help lessen pressure in wrists and hands.
You can also raise your computer screen to your eye level to prevent pressure from building up in the nerves on the neck.
Top tip: To treat your pinched nerve, you may need to find the correct position that relieves the pressure on your pinched nerve. Standing benches, ergonomic mouses, and keyboards are available online.
Pain-relieving medications can also soothe the pain that accompanies pinched nerves. Several over-the-counter pain medications can relieve pain caused by a pinched nerve.
Your doctor may also prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce inflammation. Taking NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (Advil) and Naxopreven, can help relieve pain.
Top tip: Before you use any drug, make sure you consult your doctor.
Stretching and yoga
Stretching, yoga, and other gentle exercises may help relieve tension and pressure in the pinched nerve. However, ensure you don’t overstretch because it can worsen the symptoms.
Top tip: If you feel discomfort while exercising, ensure you stop immediately to avoid damaging the nerve further.
Massage or physical therapy
Massages were one of the oldest methods of healing. If you have a pinched nerve, taking a massage may help reduce tension around the nerve and help your muscles loosen.
Trying out deep tissue massage can be incredibly beneficial. A deep tissue massage can reduce muscle tension, increase joint mobility and flexibility, and help your muscles relax. In some cases, deep tissue massages can add extra pressure and make the symptoms worse.
Your doctor may advise you to wear a splint on the affected area to prevent additional damage, take pressure off your pinched nerve, and allow your nerve to heal faster.
Elevate the legs
Elevating your legs may help soothe your pain if you have a pinched nerve in your back. Elevating your legs at a 45° degree angle can help you take pressure off your spine.
Top tip: You can elevate your legs by putting a few pillows under your knees before bed.
Ice and heat packs
Ice and heat packs are excellent methods to reduce swelling and inflammation. While ice packs help to soothe pain, heat packs increase the circulation of fresh blood to the area, which may help relax muscles.
You can place the ice pack over the affected area for about 15 minutes, 3 times daily, to help reduce inflammation. The heat pads can be left on the affected area for a more extended period, up to 1 hour, 3 times daily.
Top tip: Ice and heat packs are available online and in your nearby shops.
Risk factors for a pinched nerve
Some health factors may put you at risk of developing a pinched nerve.
- Sex: Since women have smaller carpal tunnels than men, they are more prone to developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Bone spurs: Abnormal bone spurs arising from osteoarthritis or other trauma can tighten the spine and reduce the routes your nerves travel, compressing nerves.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: Inflammation is a common symptom caused by rheumatoid arthritis that can pinch nerves, especially in your joints.
Other risk factors include:
Diabetes: People living with diabetes are prone to nerve compression.
Repeated use: If your job demands repetitive hand, wrist, or back movements, such as carrying heavy objects over your head, you are more likely to experience a pinched nerve.
Obesity: The excess weight can pressure your nerves and pinch nerves.
Pregnancy: Pregnancy also comes with a weight that can compress your nerves.
Prolonged bed rest: Staying on your bed idle for long periods can increase your risk of nerve compression.
How to prevent pinched nerves in the back
There’s good news: You can use several methods to prevent pinched nerves in your back.
- Maintain good positioning: Avoid staying in the wrong positions for too long. You can try ergonomic workstations if your job requires you to stay in one place for a long time.
- Ensure you try flexibility exercises that help you relax your muscles.
- Reduce repetitive activities and take regular breaks when engaging in these activities.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
When to see a doctor for your pinched nerve
If the pain in your back doesn’t subside in a few days, you must see a doctor immediately. Usually, a pinched nerve should heal on its own. However, you need to visit your doctor if your pinched nerve is persistent or shows symptoms including:
- Bladder problems
- An inability to grip objects or a tendency to drop things
- Nerve damage causes a part of your body to collapse or stop working properly