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3 Quick Tips About Pinched Nerves

Pinched nerves can literally be a pain in the butt....or shoulder; learn what causes pinched nerves and how they are treated.

By
Rob Lamberts, MD
4-minute read
Episode #38

Today’s topic is the dreaded pinched nerve in the back.  I’ll tell you what it is, what causes it, how to diagnose it, and how to fix it.

What is a Pinched Nerve?

So what exactly is a “pinched nerve?”  The term generally refers to damage of the nerves near the spinal cord.  Doctors (of course) have a fancy word for it, calling it a radiculopathy. When I say “pinched nerve,” what is the symptom that comes to your head?  “Back pain” would be the most common answer, and it would be wrong.  The radiation of the nerve pain, or radiculopathy is not felt in the back but instead hurts where the damaged nerve travels to: the shoulders, arms, legs, and of course the butt. 

Nerve Roots

As I said in my back pain article, the spine consists of a stack of bones, called vertebrae, that surround a bundle of nerves known as the spinal cord.  The most important parts of the spine are the neck (called the cervical spine), which supplies nerves for the arms, and the lower back (called the lumbar spine), which supplies nerves to the legs.  The vast majority of trouble happens in these two locations.

All the action we are concerned about today happens at the place in the spine where the vertebrae, or bones, come together--a place known as the intervertebral space.  It is here that the intervertebral discs lie, acting as cushions between the bones; and it is here where the nerve roots are--you know, those things that keep getting pinched.

What Causes Pinched Nerves?

There are a number of things, including arthritis,  that can cause damage at the nerve root, but I am going to focus on one: the herniated disc.

The intervertebral disc (the one that acts as a cushion between the vertebra) is a round piece of cartilage with a tough outside and a soft and gooey inside – kind of like a Skittle, except it isn’t filled with fruity goodness.  Weakness of the disc coating accompanied by some sort of stressor can cause the goo inside the disc to be pushed out.  When it does come out, it often ends up pushing against the nerve root coming out of the spinal cord.  It’s this pressure on the nerve root that causes the classic “pinched nerve.”

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Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.