Most of us, at one point in our life, have experienced some form of back or neck pain. In some cases, it can disrupt your day to day living. Frequently the pain is caused by a pinched nerve related to herniated or degenerated discs in the spine. The spine has many discs throughout its length, and sometimes these discs can become compressed or even start to degenerate. Disc bulging or herniation is more common in the younger population, whereas, degeneration is more common in the elderly.
ANATOMY OF BONE SPURS
A bone spur is a projection that develops on the surface of a healthy bone. This can be caused by a variety of things, but the most common cause is friction. When bones rub up against each other, which is the case with degenerative or herniated discs, it causes calcium deposits to build up. These calcium deposits are meant to strengthen and support the bone but are the cause of bone spurs.
SYMPTOMS OF NERVE COMPRESSION
A pinched nerve is when there is too much pressure being applied to the nerve by surrounding tissues such as cartilage, bones, tendons, or muscles. The pressure disrupts the nerves function and begins to cause a severe amount of pain among other complaints. The symptoms of a compressed nerve are:
- Numbness or decreased sensation in the area supplied by the nerve
- Sharp, aching or burning pain, which may radiate outward
- Tingling, pins and needles sensations (paresthesia)
- Muscle weakness in the affected area
- Frequent feeling that a foot or hand has “fallen asleep.”
The pain of a pinched or compressed nerve can often worsen while you are sleeping or in a stationary position for a lengthy amount of time.
There are many treatment options available for a pinched nerve, and usually, surgery is not required, but in some extreme cases it can be needed to help the patient return back to a normal quality of life. Treatment for pinched nerves include:
Medication and activity restriction: Anti-inflammatory drugs also known as NSAIDS such as ibuprofen can help elevate some of the pain and reduce swelling. In some cases, oral steroids may be used if NSAIDS are not effective. Restricting yourself from activities that cause the pain to increase can also contribute to reducing the pain and swelling. The medications used to treat a pinched nerve will usually need to be taken from four to six weeks depending on the doctor’s treatment orders. Short periods of rest are also effective at decreasing overall pain.
Physical therapy: Physical therapists can instruct you on various exercises to help alleviate pain. These exercises help to strengthen and stretch the soft tissues in the area that is affected to release the pressure on the nerve. Manual treatments to assist in restoring soft tissue and joint mobility are also common interventions. The therapists may also provide ice, heat, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation to help control pain.
Injections: Corticosteroid medications which can be taken by mouth or injection can help lessen the pain, ease the pressure on the nerve, and reduce inflammation. Injections will only temporarily relieve the pain, and you may end up needing to have multiple injections or epidurals to continue the decrease in pain.
Surgery: In the worse case scenario, surgery may be needed. Surgeries such as a laminectomy can treat bone spurs and pinched nerve pain. The operation is meant to remove the bone spurs themselves as well as the ligaments that have thickened and caused the nerve pain.
Back and neck pain is something more than 80% of people will experience in their lifetime. In the younger people, back pain is caused by various things such as standing too long, not lifting heavy objects correctly, sports, and other strenuous physical activities. Back pain is also caused as a natural part of the aging process. As we age our bones become brittle and easier to break (osteoporosis), discs degenerate, and bone spurs develop causing pain. Regardless of the cause, back pain can be treated with the right steps and in the worst cases, surgery to eliminate it.