Common Causes of Pinched Nerves

Spine | Tuckahoe Orthopaedics
Walter N. Rabhan, MD | Tuckahoe OrthopaedicsBy Walter N. Rabhan, MD

Many patients, when they have a pinched nerve in the spine or neck, aren’t aware they have a pinched nerve. Instead, they talk about the associated symptoms without knowing the underlying cause. At Tuckahoe Orthopaedics, we use testing and medical knowledge to get to the root of the problem and find the cause of your pain.

Symptoms of Pinched Nerves

Common symptoms of a pinched nerve in the lower back or spine include:

  • Pain, burning, or stinging sensation in one or both buttocks, thighs, or calves
  • Hip pain
  • Pain or burning down to the toes or foot

Symptoms of a pinched nerve in the upper back neck usually include these same sensations, but the symptoms radiate into the upper extremities (arms, shoulders, scapula, hands).

Keep in mind, these are only symptoms, not conditions in and of themselves. A pinched or irritated nerve is really an indication of some other, underlying condition. If you have a pinched nerve, it’s a sign something else is going on in your body.

Causes of Pinched Nerves

Any one of these conditions can result in the symptoms described above.

  • Bulging of the disc.
  • Protrusion of the disc.
  • Ruptured disc
  • Degenerative disc disease (an early form of arthritis)
  • Bone spurs.
  • Fractures.
  • Inflammation of soft tissue from a severe sprain or strain

In rarer instances, pinched nerves may be caused by tumors, fractures, or what is called Piriformis Syndrome (an irritation of the sciatic nerve caused by muscle spasms).

Causes of a pinched nerve often vary by age. From ages 20 to 45, pinched nerves will most often occur as a result of disc or soft tissue problems. From ages fifty to eighty and onward, pinched nerves are most likely a result of degenerative arthritis, spinal stenosis, or other age-related causes.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Pinched Nerves

Diagnosis of a pinched nerve starts with a basic examination and X-ray. A physical exam will tell the doctor at what level of the spine the problem is occurring. Most of the time, barring extraordinary circumstances or significant abnormalities in the examination, the treatment for a pinched nerve is the same.

Routine treatment begins with anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy, rest, and modified physical activity for three to four weeks. If the symptoms have not abated after this time, then further examination may be necessary, such as an MRI. This will show the doctor the disc, soft tissue, and the nerves to check for stenosis, bulging, protrusions, or other conditions that do not show up on an X-ray.

Beyond the non-invasive treatments are solutions such as cortisone shots and (as a last resort) surgery. However, most patients recover from a pinched nerve before even needing an MRI.

Are you experiencing ongoing neck or back pain that fits the symptoms above? Request an appointment with Tuckahoe Orthopaedics today so we can diagnose your options.