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A pinched nerve usually refers to a spinal nerve, which is a large nerve exiting the spine through holes between the vertebrae. These nerves are the ones that can cause intense pain from a disc bulge. However, nerves can be pinched at different locations and by different structures in the body.
For example, the sciatic nerve can be pinched, causing a commonly known pain called sciatica. The sciatic nerve comes from multiple areas in the spine, and runs down the back of the leg under a muscle called the piriformis. Sciatica can be caused by a disc bulge, or perhaps by a problem with the piriformis muscle pinching on the nerve.
Pinched nerves usually feel like a sharp, shooting pain down an arm or leg. This pain can often be accompanied by numbness, tingling, or weakness in a muscle. More rarely, a pinched nerve can cause a problem in the function of a particular organ. For example, Cauda Equina Syndrome is the pinching of multiple nerves in the low back and can cause bowel and bladder problems.
Spinal discs sit between each of the vertebrae and are made of cartilage. They provide cushioning and support so that each bone can move freely on top of the one below. A disc has a fibrous outer rim, and a jelly-like centre. This means that if the outer rim is weakened, the disc can balloon out and bulge towards the spinal nerves. If the bulge is big enough, it can pinch the nerve, causing intense pain.
Osteoarthritis can cause a thickening of the joints in the spine, leading to a narrowing of the spaces where the nerves exit the spine. This is called Lateral Canal Stenosis, which essentially means that the hole the nerve travels through is getting smaller. If the hole gets small enough, it takes less and less movement of the spine to pinch on the nerves. In addition to this, if any swelling occurs around the nerves, whether it is from an injury or perhaps you’ve overworked your back, it can aggravate the pinched nerves very easily.
Thoracic outlet syndrome is where the nerves, veins or arteries get compressed in your shoulders. This can lead to numbness and tingling in the hands, weakness in the arms and shoulders, and in extreme and rare cases, shrinking of the muscles in the hand called atrophy.
By far, the most common form of thoracic outlet syndrome involves only the nerves, not the veins or arteries, but it is always important to have your condition assessed by a health professional to determine the nature of the problem.
Pinched nerves can happen in many different areas of the body and can be caused by many different problems. It is always best to have your pain assessed by your healthcare professional to determine the cause.
Pinched nerves have many potential causes, however one of the most common is from a bulging disc in the spine. One of the most common techniques Chiropractors use when managing pinched nerves is manual adjustments. This involves pushing on the joints in a specific direction with a controlled amount of force to achieve improved range of motion and to reduce pain. This has shown to improve the pain associated with pinched nerves in the low back.
If you are unsure where your pain is coming from, or if you are experiencing sharp, shooting pains down your arms or legs, always have this assessed by a healthcare professional. At Total Health Chiropractic, we commonly see people who are experiencing pinched nerves. Unfortunately, pinched nerves tend to be common as we age. To minimise the effects of pinched nerves, it is always better to begin appropriate management sooner rather than later. If numbness or tingling is left unmanaged, there is a chance it may cause long term injury.
1: Colloca, C. J., Keller, T. S., & Gunzburg, R. (2004). Biomechanical and neurophysiological responses to spinal manipulation in patients with lumbar radiculopathy. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 27(1), 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.JMPT.2003.11.021
By Dr. Beau Kenihan (Chiropractor)