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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 or more commonly, 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 a pinched nerve 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 medicine 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 having a pinched nerve. 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.
Medicines 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. Your healthcare provider may suggest a home exercise program that you can do on a routine basis. These measures also relieve pressure on the nerve.
Your healthcare provider may be able to suggest self-care steps to help prevent or treat a pinched nerve.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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