The phrase, “pinched nerve” may be the most misused and self-reported diagnosis in my office. Almost daily someone arrives in my office reporting to have a “pinched nerve.” This could be self-described as, “it feels like……” Or second hand, “my doctor said I have a……” Or even a, “my cousin’s wife has the same thing and she says it’s a……pinched nerve” The term “pinched nerve” is often a catchall used to explain a sharp pain in a person’s low back or neck. Sometimes the patient is correct, and they really have a “pinched nerve.” We go through a thorough examination, order additional tests and we conclude exactly that; they have a pinched nerve root. Another name is a radiculopathy. But most of the time the term “pinched nerve” is not an accurate diagnosis of the presenting problem. Allow me to explain why.
It’s not that pinched nerves are rare. We see quite a few in our office. They just may not be as common as the average person would like to think. Spinal nerves, are the peripheral nerves that leave your back and feed your extremities; allowing you to run, kick a soccer ball and feel the sand between your toes. And they are also the ones affected when a nerve is truly being ‘pinched.” Spinal nerves function like electrical wires. Think of what happens when you flip on a light switch. It sends electricity through low voltage wires to the other side of the room and illuminates your overhead lighting or turns on the ceiling fan. Well, nerves function a lot like electricity. Meaning, when your nerve is “pinched” it acts like a wire and carries a signal to another part of the body. For example, if you pinch a nerve in the lower part of your spine, also known as the lumbar region, it can send shooting pain down your leg to your calf, ankle or toes. Pain down the leg is usually the first sign of a pinched nerve. When it becomes more advanced a person will start to develop numbness and tingling. The earlier this is treated, the better chance there is to heal it without drugs or surgery. Once weakness and muscle atrophy set in, the surgical route is often unavoidable.
A true “pinched nerve” occurs in a type of nerve called a spinal nerve. This means that when you have an impingement your symptoms will be on one side or the other; not both. If you are having symptoms on both sides of your upper or lower extremities it can sometimes mean a more serious condition.
The kind of pain most people have is called mechanical low back pain and is different from a pinched nerve. Mechanical low back pain is the result of stressed tissue at or near the spine which irritates nerves resulting in referred pain. This can occur from a specific injury or from an overuse syndrome such as regular sitting or repetitive lifting. The good news about mechanical low back pain is that it is often curable or at least manageable with proper diagnosis and guidance. Please stayed tuned for more information in future posts on how you can take control of your own low back pain and limit the need for doctor’s visits and even worse, surgery.
If you wan to het started go to our Do IT Yourself page and start following our core activation protocols today. https://smartpainsolutions.com/fix-back-pain/
Dr. Robert “Bo” Andel
Graduate Logan University, 2008