A pinched nerve is damage or injury to a nerve or set of nerves from compression or constricting. Motor nerves, those that carry information from the brain to the body, and sensory nerves, those that send information from the body to the brain for processing information about pain, touch, taste temperature and other sensations, can be affected by a pinched nerve. The condition is more prevalent in women than men. It also affects people with poor posture, rheumatoid arthritis, bone spurs, pregnant women, those who are obese and those with repetitive strain injuries.
A pinched nerve is caused when a nerve is damaged by direct pressure or compression and is unable to send a signal. It may be the result of a work-related injury. It also can be caused by a number of factors, including carpal tunnel syndrome, poor posture, osteoarthritis, trauma and herniated discs. A pinched nerve may be the result of an on-the-job injury that results in a herniated disc.
Symptoms include numbness, tingling and/or pain radiating outward from the injured area. One of the most common examples of a single compressed nerve is the feeling of having a foot or hand “fall asleep”. Pinched nerves can sometimes lead to other conditions, such as peripheral neuropathy, carpal tunnel syndrome and tennis elbow. The extent of such injuries may vary from minor, temporary damage to a more permanent condition. Early diagnosis is important to prevent further damage or complications. Early diagnosis is important to prevent further damage or complications.
Primarily, spinal stenosis and the accompanying arthritis are the result of the normal aging process. The gelatinous discs that cushion the vertebrae in the spine begin to dry out as we age, resulting in shortened disc height. This puts pressure on the facet joints. As they feel more pressure, they too deteriorate, leading to arthritis. The arthritis can cause the ligaments around the joints to thicken and enlarge, decreasing space in the spinal canal for nerves to pass through. The cartilage that protects joints wears away as well. Too much wear leads to bone-on-bone rubbing. To compensate for the missing cartilage, the body may grow bone in the facet joints. The bone overgrowth is called spurs, and their formation further contributes to the narrowing of space in the spinal canal for nerves to pass through. Once the space within the spinal canal becomes too cramped, pain can ensue.
In some cases, nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatories will work by relieving the pain and inflammation. Physical therapy also may strengthen muscles around the pinched nerve. Ice and heat therapy is often used to relieve symptoms. Cortisone injections and a brace can offer relief.
Patients who don’t respond to non-operative treatment methods may need surgery. Surgical intervention depends on the area of the pinched nerve. In case of back or neck pain, herniated discs may be causing the pain which is relieved by removing a portion of the bony spur. At the Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush Minimally Invasive Spine Institute, Dr. Kern Singh will perform surgery for a pinched nerve through a small incision, which results in less damage to the muscle, tissue and ligaments, less hospital time and a quicker recuperation. Two common types of minimally invasive surgeries used for pinched nerves are lamino-foraminotomy and microsurgical laminoplasty.
At A Glance
Dr. Kern Singh
- Minimally invasive and endoscopic spine surgeon
- Inventor and surgeon innovator with multiple patents in spinal surgery and instrumentation
- Author of more than 10 textbooks in minimally invasive spinal surgery
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