A pinched nerve is a medical condition thatdevelops when an external factor appliespressure to one of the nerves that exist in thebody. Nerve compression can occur as a resultof something as benign as a minor tweak orstrain, or it can also indicate the presence of acondition that will require medical attention. Sowhat is a pinched nerve, exactly?
The Physiology of the Nervous SystemTo fully understand what a pinched nerve is, it is firstnecessary to have a basic understanding of the purposeof the nerves in the body. In the most general sense, thenerves are facilitators that allow the brain to send andreceive messages to the far reaches of the body virtuallyinstantaneously. These nerves act like an informationsuperhighway that transmit electrical signals back to thebrain to be processed and are responsible for all of ourvoluntary and involuntary movements. In other words, itis because of nerves that our lungs breathe and we digestfood and we recoil when our hand touches a hot surface,as much as they are responsible for allowing us to make afist or put one foot in front of another.
The Cause of SymptomsWhere people run into problems is whenthis transmittal of information isinterrupted as a result of the damage,irritation, or constriction of one of thenerves, which can result in differenttypes pain. For example, think aboutwhat happens when you hit your funnybone. This “bone” is actually anunprotected segment of your ulnarnerve, which runs from the spinal cord inthe neck to your finger tips. When youhit this part of your elbow just right,radiating pain is sent up and down thenerve. A pinched nerve can have asimilar affect in that it may causesymptoms to develop in parts of thebody that are seemingly unrelated toorigin of the problem, depending on thelocation of the compression.
The Spinal ColumnWhile a pinched nerve can ostensibly occur anywhere in the body, it isparticularly common in the spinal column, especially in the olderpopulation. Over the years, the wear and tear that comes fromdecades of regular movement in the back and neck can take its toll onthe spinal anatomy and lead to natural degeneration. Intervertebraldiscs become worn, vertebral joints become arthritic, ligaments calcify,and other changes naturally occur. It is because of this deteriorationthat aches and pains in the neck and back are so commonly associatedwith getting older. However, when one of these conditions results inthe compression of a spinal nerve, symptoms can arise. The frustratingthing about a pinched nerve in this instance is that the pain typicallywon’t abate on its own, as is usually the case when nerve compressionoccurs as a result of a sports-related injury or strain. Instead,treatment usually requires the assistance of a doctor.
Treatment OptionsBehind, “what is a pinched nerve,” one of the most common questionsthat doctors hear is, “how do I treat the nerve compression?” Theanswer to this question is somewhat complicated because it dependsentirely on the unique patient and a number of variables, such as thecause, extent, and location of the problem. That said, the good newswhen it comes to pinched nerves is that in all but the most severecases, a regimen of conservative, noninvasive treatment is usually allthat is required to overcome the chronic pain. However, in the eventthat a combination of anti-inflammatories, stretching exercises, andhot/cold therapy fails to provide acceptable results after severalmonths of treatment, a number of different decompressionprocedures may be recommended. To learn more, schedule aconsultation with your doctor or spine specialist today.