Doctors know that when patients present with back pain, they have their work cut out for them. Back pain can be very difficult to diagnose accurately. There are so many causes, specific and nonspecific, that isolating back pain can be quite challenging.
One particular cause of back pain is something known as cervical radiculopathy. In layperson’s terms, cervical radiculopathy is a pinched nerve. It can cause a variety of different back pains felt in various locations that may seem completely unrelated to where the pinched nerve is located. As such, pinched nerves can be difficult to pinpoint.
Explanation of a Pinched Nerve
Nerves are those long, narrow chains of tissue that carry electrical signals between the brain and various parts of the body. They are rather soft and easily compressed. Nerves in the spine are always at risk of being compressed by surrounding bone or tissue. These are especially vulnerable because the cavities through which they pass are already quite narrow.
When a nerve is pinched, it is not able to send information to the brain. The brain perceives this interruption and sends out pain signals to alert of the problem. Interestingly enough though, pain is not necessarily felt in the same location as the pinched nerve.
Symptoms of Pinched Nerves
According to Lone Star Pain Medicine in Weatherford, Texas, there are some quite common symptoms that immediately point doctors to the possibility of a pinched nerve in the back. The symptoms include pain, numbness, and tingling. Where the patient experiences such symptoms depends on the location of the compression.
Pinched nerves in the lower back tend to cause pain that begins in the lower back and radiates to the legs and feet. The legs and feet can also tingle and feel numb. Lastly, muscle spasms and weakness are often observed in the leg muscles because they are not receiving the right electrical signals.
Pinched nerves in the upper back generally result in pain that seems to start in the neck and radiate from there. It can radiate to one or both arms. Tingling and numbness also present, with tingling usually appearing in the fingers. Finally, muscle weakness may be observed in the hands, arms, and shoulders.
As you can see, the compression of a single nerve can create a whole host of symptoms that radiate well beyond the point of the pinched area itself. It is not uncommon for pain at the point of the pinched nerve to be virtually nonexistent, leading patients to believe that the source of the pain is elsewhere.
What Causes Pinched Nerves
Some cases of pinched nerves are nonspecific. This is to say that doctors cannot tell exactly what causes them. It can be something as simple as inflammation brought on by strenuous activity or even a virus. More often than not, however, pinched nerves are very specific. Things that can cause them to include:
- bone spurs
- herniated discs
- infected disks
- spinal stenosis
A pain specialist can very often diagnose a pinched nerve with just a routine examination. However, a doctor might ask for further tests to be performed to confirm a diagnosis or pinpoint the location of the compression. Typical treatments include rest, avoiding strenuous activities, and taking NSAIDs to reduce inflammation. Oral and injected steroids may also be recommended for the most severe cases.
The human nervous system is robust in some ways and delicate in others. In terms of the latter, the compression of a single nerve can create chronic pain that will just not go away. Thankfully, treatments are available with an appropriate diagnosis.