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Your spine is made of many bones called vertebrae. Your spinal cord runs downward through a canal in the center of these bones. Nerve roots branch off the cord and go between each vertebrae. When problems affect these nerve roots, the condition is called radiculopathy. This is commonly called a pinched nerve.
This problem is most likely to occur in your lower back (lumbar radiculopathy), but it can also affect your neck (cervical radiculopathy) or other parts of your spinal cord.
One cause of radiculopathy is a herniated disk. Soft disks act as cushions between your vertebrae. Sometimes, these disks slip out of place or become damaged and press on nerves. This is commonly called a slipped disk.
As people age, it's common for the disks to become shorter and the vertebrae to get closer together. Bone growths called spurs could also press on the nerve roots. But, many people ages 50 and older have damaged disks and pinched nerves but don't have symptoms.
Symptoms of a pinched nerve in the lower back include:
Symptoms of pinched nerve in the neck include:
Possible tests to diagnose this problem are:
In many cases, these simple steps may treat your symptoms:
Some people need more advanced treatments. Your doctor might suggest injections of steroid medication in the area where a disk is herniated. Some people might benefit from surgery. During a surgical procedure called a discectomy, the surgeon removes all or part of the disk that is pressing on a nerve root. Along with this procedure, the surgeon may need to remove parts of some vertebrae or fuse vertebrae together.
Staying physically fit may reduce your risk of radiculopathy. Using good posture at work and in your leisure time, such as lifting heavy objects properly, may also help prevent this condition. If you sit at work for long periods, consider getting up and walking around regularly.
Medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids or stronger narcotic medicines help reduce nerve swelling and relieve pain. Corticosteroids may also be given as an injection, which will also reduce inflammation and pain allowing the nerve to heal.
Losing weight, if needed will help relieve pressure on the joints. Physical therapy may use specialized exercises to strengthen and stretch the neck muscles. A physical therapist may suggest wearing a soft collar or using traction to help the neck muscles rest and heal. These measures also relieve pressure on the nerve.
Your health care provider may be able to suggest self-care steps to help prevent or treat radiculopathy.
Call your health care provider right away or go to the emergency room if you have sudden onset of numbness, weakness, or paralysis of an arm or leg that does not go away, or if you lose bladder or bowel control. These could be signs of a serious condition that needs treatment right away.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
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