“Pinched nerve(s)” is a term used to describe the compression of an individual nerve or group of nerves. Pinched nerves can occur for various reasons including “slipped discs”, degenerative discs, herniated discs, spinal subluxations or misalignments, spinal stenosis, muscle spasms, and certain injuries. At Chiropractic Care, our goal is to determine, and specifically treat, the cause of these pinched nerves
Pinched Nerves and Herniated Discs
Herniated discs are a common reason for a pinched nerve between the vertebrae of the spine. This condition occurs when the gel-like center of a vertebral disc (the nucleus pulposus) breaks through the outer ligaments (the annulus fibrosis) of the intervertebral disc. This bulge or extruded material puts pressure and inflammation on the adjacent nerve root, causing pain, numbness and/or tingling, and if severe enough, weakness. Disc herniations in the lower cervical spine and the lower lumbar spine are the most common because these are the most flexible vertebral segments.
Pinched Nerves and Lumbar Disc Herniations
Lumbar disc herniations most commonly occur between lumbar segments 4 and 5 (L4/5), and between lumbar segment 5 and sacral segment 1 (L5/S1). When this occurs, herniations compress the L5 nerve and the S1 nerve, respectively. This syndrome is called lumbar radiculopathy, more commonly referred to as “Sciatica” or sciatic neuritis. In general, if a herniated disc is pinching a lumbar nerve, the pain is more severe when sitting.
Pinching the L5 nerve root will often cause numbness, pain, burning and tingling sensations. These sensations radiate from the affected area in the lower back down to the buttocks, hip, thigh, leg, and to the big toe or top of the foot. Pinching of the S1 nerve root may radiate these same sensations down to the buttocks, hip and outer leg to the ankle and the sole and side of the foot.
Pinched Nerves and Cervical Disc Herniations
Cervical disc herniations occur less frequently than lumbar disc herniations, however are still common. When nerve roots in the cervical spine are compressed or “pinched,” the result can be pain and stiffness in the neck radiating pain to the upper back, shoulder, and arms. Numbness and, if the pressure is severe enough, weakness may occur. This is called cervical radiculopathy. If the sensory nerves between the first and second or second and third cervical levels are pinched, headaches (cephalgia) can also result. Headaches caused from a pinched nerve in the neck may be called cervicogenic headaches and greater occipital neuralgia.
Pinched Nerves and Thoracic Disc Herniations
Although less common than pinched nerves from lumbar or cervical herniations, a thoracic herniated disc may lead to myelopathy (spinal cord dysfunction), progressive neurological deficits, or intolerable pain. Typically, these symptoms occur following an acute traumatic disc herniation and may radiate pain and wrap around to the flank.
Pinched Nerves and Muscle Spasms
Certain types of tight muscles, short muscles, or muscle spasms may cause pressure on nerves. The Pirifomis muscle, which goes from the spine to the hip, will often put pressure on or ‘pinch’ the Sciatic nerve. This cause of Sciatica is common and can mimic the symptoms of a herniated disc.
Muscle tightness in the Scalene muscles of the neck may tighten and cause symptoms radiating down to the shoulder, arm and fingers. This Scalene Antics syndrome is a type of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and responds well to therapy.