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. Discs are the cushions that separate the vertebra of spine. Sometimes these discs can become compressed or even start to degenerate. Disc bulging and disc herniation are more common in the younger population, whereas, disc 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 that can lead to a pinched nerve. 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 / pinched 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 in most cases, surgery is not required.
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 can provided different degrees of relief depending on the severity of the pinched nerve. When coupled with physical therapy the effect of a steroid injection is often much greater.
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 population, 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 common 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. Depending on what is causing a nerve to be pinched, the right treatment can make a big difference. If you would like to learn how physical therapy can start you on the road to recovery please feel free to contact us at Buffalo Back & Neck Physical Therapy to see how we can help.