Chronic pain is...well, a PAIN.
Many people don't even think about it, but for those who have it, it seems to be all they can think about.
There are many causes of chronic pain. Some are preventable, and some aren't.
For the ones that are preventable, you want to do everything you can to stop or at least alleviate it.
People who haven't experienced a pinched nerve in their back probably don't think it's that big of a deal.
For those who have experienced a pinched nerve in their back, you likely know that it can be debilitating. However, because of the way the symptoms present themselves, it might be hard to figure out that it's indeed a pinched nerve.
And you need to know so that you can fix it.
The Nerve: Explained
When you think of the word "nerve," you likely don't think of it in the anatomical sense. You're probably more likely to think of people getting on your nerves or working up the nerve to do something.
However, these phrases had to come from somewhere, right?
In order to understand more about what a pinched nerve is, you should first know what a nerve is.
The human nervous system
The human nervous system is composed of two parts: the central nervous system (CNS) and peripheral nervous system (PNS). Simply put, the CNS is the brain and spinal cord, and the PNS is all the other nerves.
The nerve itself
If you want to know what a nerve is, the answer is quite simple.
It's a bundle of fibers that different parts of the body will use for communication.
Nerves convey sensory and motor messages from one body part to another.
This is why a problem with the nerves can lead to pain in a different area of the body, as you will soon see in the case of a pinched nerve in the back.
So, Your Nerve Is Pinched
Basically, a pinched nerve is probably exactly what you think it is at this point. It is a nerve that is compressed by surrounding tissues. These can be cartilage, bones, tendons, or muscles.
Here's the problem:
When the nerve is pinched, its function is disrupted. This leads to different symptoms, such as pain, numbness, weakness, and tingling.
DID YOU KNOW?
Professionals used to believe that nerve-related pain in the legs or buttocks was due to pinching of the sciatic nerve (which originates in the pelvis and goes down the leg). But it turns out that this isn't true --nerve-related pain in the limbs is usually the result of a pinched nerve in the back.
Pinched nerve causes
Now that you know what a pinched nerve causes, you might want to know what causes a pinched nerve.
There are many different conditions that can cause tissue to place pressure on a nerve. These include the following:
Because the human body is so complex, one interaction will invariably affect another. This is especially true when nerves are involved.
DID YOU KNOW?
The nervous system has less regenerative ability than most systems of the body, as these cells do not divide and reproduce. Scientists are currently examining stem cells to uncover their potential for repair and regrowth.
Signs and symptoms
So, you think you might have a pinched nerve, but you're not sure.
Let's look at the symptoms:
One is numbness, or at least reduced sensation, in the area that is supplied by the nerve.
You may also have pain in that area. It can be an aching, burning, or simply sharp pain. In some cases, it radiates outward.
You could have muscle weakness in the affected area as well. Or a feeling that your hand or foot has fallen asleep.
And that's not all:
Another not so pleasant potential symptom is paresthesia, which is a tingling. It'll basically feel like pins and needles.
Of course, these symptoms can occur in different areas of the body. It depends on which nerve is pinched and which area of the body the nerve happens to supply.
How a pinched nerve feels
If you're wondering how a pinched nerve in the back feels, the answer to this is kind of tricky.
Generally, you aren't going to feel pain in your back where the nerve is located.
In some cases, lumbar spinal nerve pinching can cause pain lateral to the midline of the spine, to the right or left. However, it's far more common that the pain will be in other parts of the body.
Here's how it works:
The nerve is there to send signals between an area of your body and your central nervous system. Because of this, it's that area of the body where you will feel the symptoms.
So, that means:
If you have a pinched nerve in the lumbar area of your spine, you will likely experience symptoms in your legs or buttocks.
On the other hand, if you have one in a cervical spinal nerve, you are more likely to experience symptoms in your arms and shoulders.
Both of these sets of situations usually involves radiculopathy, which is compression of a spinal nerve.
Risk Factors for a Pinched Nerve
You know the immediate situations that can cause a pinched nerve in your back. Now, it's time to look at risk factors for these situations.
Ways to Prevent Pinched Nerves
Reading about risk factors might be scary, but the good news is that there are things you can do to prevent pinched nerves as well.
And here's one of them:
Maintain a healthy weight. This way, you eliminate the risk of excess weight compressing your nerves.
You could also:
Put a limit on the repetitive activities you do that strain certain parts of the body. If you must do them, such as in the case of assembly line workers, you can at least try to take frequent breaks while doing them.
And you should also try to maintain healthy positions. Try not to lie in any one position for too long of a time. Also, avoid crossing your legs too frequently.
If you have a regular exercise program, it would definitely be smart to incorporate flexibility and strength exercises into your routine.
Of course, you should bear in mind that none of these things will give you a 100 percent guarantee of no pinched nerves. What they can do, however, is minimize the risk significantly.
When You Should See a Doctor for a Pinched Nerve
You should definitely see a doctor for a pinched nerve in your back if the signs and symptoms above are present and have lasted for several days.
On the other hand:
You can feel free to try some self-care measures first. In some cases, your symptoms will be alleviated or even cured by getting additional rest or using over-the-counter pain medication.
But keep in mind:
If the symptoms still persist, you should definitely see a doctor. You know what they say: better safe than sorry. This is not a problem that you want to just leave to its own devices.
How Your Doctor Will Identify a Pinched Nerve
This is the part that might be a bit unpleasant for the people who are scared of doctors. But it would be best to brace yourself and keep reading because it's useful information.
And the truth is:
You need to hear it.
In order to identify and diagnose a pinched nerve, your doctor will get a detailed history of your symptoms. Also, he or she will perform a typical physical examination to rule out anything else.
The best procedure that can be done to visualize spinal nerves is an MRI. It's done using magnets, and it is considered to be the gold standard in terms of getting images.
The bad news is:
In some cases, MRIs cannot be done. Because the imaging in these studies relies on magnets, an MRI can interfere with certain medical devices, such as pacemakers.
If the doctor can't do an MRI, it is likely that he or she will do a CT instead.
However, this is hardly ideal:
CT scans and x-rays don't provide good enough visualization of nerves and soft tissues. For this reason, the doctor will need to inject dye into the spinal canal to be able to see the spinal nerves better. This procedure in its entirety is called a myelogram.
But all hope is not lost:
In some cases that involve a pinched nerve in the back, an electrodiagnostic study, otherwise known as EMG/NCS, is used. In this study, small needles and electrical discharges are imposed upon different muscles. The reaction of these muscles can give the doctors information on the function of the nerve that must be affected.
Treatments for Pinched Nerves
If you have a pinched nerve, never fear! There are things that you can do.
If not to make the pain go away completely, you can at least alleviate it somewhat.
Natural home remedies
If you don't want to run to the doc quite yet, don't worry.
1. Posture adjustment
Basically, if you want to relieve pain from a pinched nerve, you might need to change your posture. You should just find whatever position causes you the least pain and spend as much time in that position as possible.
2. Standing up as much as possible
It might seem counterintuitive, but the truth is:
Standing up and maintaining mobility throughout the day are very important in preventing and treating a pinched nerve.
If you can switch to a standing workstation at your job, this would be a great idea. If not, you should at least try to take a walk for a short time every hour or so.
As with any malady, rest is very important. You should try to avoid whatever physical activity causes you pain. Rest those muscles until you no longer have symptoms.
When you stand up again, pay attention to how you feel and listen to your body.
4. Gentle stretching
It could really help you to stretch your muscles gently. Make sure, though, that you don't push yourself too hard.
Notice we said gentle.
5. Heat application
If you start to feel pain, take it easier on yourself.
Heat can actually help relax the muscles that could be tightly compressing a pinched nerve. It also increases blood flow, which can be helpful to the healing process as well.
You should hold the heating pad directly onto the pinched nerve for 10 to 15 minute intervals.
6. Ice application
Just as heat can be helpful, so can the opposite. Ice works to reduce inflammation and swelling.
Here's what to do:
Get an ice pack, wrap a towel around it, and hold it directly onto the pinched nerve for a period of 10 to 15 minutes.
If the simple things you can do at home to help your symptoms don't work, it's time to turn to conventional medicine.
If you are not yet ready to go to a doctor, you can try an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as aspirin or ibuprofen. However, make sure that you follow the instructions on the bottle.
And if you have any doubts, of course, you should ask a medical professional.
Unfortunately, in some cases, more drastic intervention will be required. This could include taking medication that your doctor prescribes, such as narcotics or oral corticosteroids to reduce pain and swelling.
Steroid injections are also a possibility. They're meant to reduce swelling and could also allow for the recovery of inflamed nerves.
And we're not done yet:
Physical therapy with a professional may also be necessary. This will help strengthen and stretch muscles. You may also need to wear a splint or soft collar, in order to limit motion and allow your muscles the rest that they need.
Since you need all the info:
In the most extreme of cases, you may need surgery. Doctors will generally only recommended this when nothing else has worked.
They may need to remove whatever is pressing down on the nerve to give you relief. The rationale being, of course, that once it is gone, it won't be compressing the nerve anymore.
The Prognosis for a Pinched Nerve
If you have a pinched nerve in your back, your prognosis is heavily dependent on several factors. In some cases, it is completely treatable. Unfortunately, in others, it is going to be the start of chronic pain.
Whatever the case, your doctor can tell you the best way to proceed in your situation.
I just want it to go away
How long your pinched nerve symptoms will last really depends on the situation. In some cases, the symptoms will resolve themselves spontaneously.
However, unfortunately, this is not always the case. Sometimes, intervention is required.
In other words:
While that may not be the answer you want to hear, it's the truth.
But no matter if the pain resolves or you need intervention, at least you're taking action. (designer_start) Please box this:
At best, you're pain-free.
At worst, you'll have to manage chronic pain.
But the point is:
It can be managed.
Dealing with chronic back pain
If you find yourself having to deal with chronic pain because of the pinched nerve in your back, you are not alone.
Though it may be upsetting to find out that the symptoms will never completely go away, there are definitely things you can do to manage them.
1. Meditation and deep breathing
These techniques can be very useful for helping your body relax, which can ultimately ease pain. Your muscles are basically receiving a message to relax, alleviating tightness and tension.
DID YOU KNOW?
Meditation has been shown to be a more effective painkiller than morphine in some cases!
2. Stress reduction
Stress not only causes mental pain, but it can increase physical pain as well.
Negative feelings, such as:
can increase your sensitivity to pain.
There are techniques that you can use to alleviate stress, such as mental imagery relaxation and progressive muscle relaxation. You can also work with a therapist.
And here's something to try:
Massage is one very effective tool that people use for stress reduction.
3. Exercise and healthy diet
While it might seem tough to exercise while you're in pain, this can be helpful. Just make sure you don't overdo it.
Exercise strengthens muscles to help prevent pain and injury. Not to mention what it does for your endorphins (brain chemicals that not only make you happier but also block pain signals).
Equally important is:
A well-balanced diet. It helps keep your weight under control, and it aids the processes of the body.
4. Refraining from smoking and drinking
Smoking has been shown to worsen painful circulation issues potentially. And alcohol can exacerbate sleep problems.
Both of these things can make your chronic pain worse, so it's good to avoid them.
5. Joining a support group
When you're part of a support group, you benefit from the wisdom and experiences of other people. It also helps you not feel so alone in your pain.
And that helps.
6. Tracking your pain and activities
Keep a journal!
This will be very helpful to your doctor in terms of treating your pain.
This will let him or her know how you have been feeling between visits and what behaviors are linked to your status.
7. Finding other focuses in life
It can be hard not to focus on pain when you're experiencing it.
But here's the truth:
That just makes it worse.
If you focus on a new hobby or passion, you can possibly find yourself forgetting about the pain for at least a short while.
Now That You Know...
Of course, a pinched nerve doesn't mean the same thing for everyone who has it. For some people, it's a very temporary problem. For others, it's a chronic lifelong problem.
The management of your condition will definitely depend on how curable it, in fact, is.
There are many ways in which the knowledge that you have just gained is universal to anyone who has a pinched nerve in their back.
Regardless of the situation, a pinched nerve in your back is not the end of the world. It's not an ideal situation, but you certainly have the power to make the best of it.
Essentially, if you work with your doctor and make the necessary changes to your own life, there is no reason a pinched nerve has to take away from your life.
Have you ever had a pinched nerve? How did you handle it? Let us know in the comments!