A pinched nerve in lower back is difficult to diagnose alone. Instead, you need a specialist doctor to investigate the source of the pain and figure out what caused it. While the pinched nerve could be the cause of various affections, it has a name itself too – lumbar radiculopathy. The result? Painful sensations and discomfort that could become debilitating.
The issue will most commonly occur when there is too much pressure in the area. Most of this pressure targets the last five vertebrae in the back. A bit of pressure is less likely to harm, but applying it repeatedly can lead to painful sensations. For instance, a problematic working environment is often the main issue associated with it.
While the pain initially starts in the lower back, it can also travel through the body and affect other nearby areas. For example, hips may also feel painful. With time, the pain can go down towards your legs and may even affect the ankles and feet. Now, how do you deal with a pinched nerve in lower back and what should you know about it?
The symptoms associated with a pinched nerve in lower back vary widely, but most of them will include some sort of pain and discomfort. Sciatica is probably the most common symptom out there – while often referred to as an affection itself, sciatica is actually a sign associated with something else.
Sciatica symptoms can include pain of different intensities, tingling sensations, weakness and numbness. Such issues normally affect the lower back. If overlooked, they will transfer to the hips and buttocks, but they may also affect one or both legs. With time, they target ankles and feet too.
Other symptoms of a pinched nerve may include sharp painful sensations – acute or continuous, general weakness in the area and muscular spasms. Some patients have also reported losing some reflexes, but such cases are quite rare.
Causes of a pinched nerve in lower back are just as diversified. Sometimes, the issue may show up out of nowhere. Then, there are also cases when it might be caused by a trauma or an injury. Most patients are aged between 30 and 50. The issue is associated with age because vertebrae compress as you get older. Discs between them will also degenerate with time.
Some of the causes associated with a pinched nerve include a bulging disc or a herniated disc, as well as injuries – such as falls. Spinal stenosis is another common issue, not to mention mechanical stretching – usually at work.
Then, bone spur formation is also among the causes – the issue is known as osteophytes. Spondylolisthesis, degeneration, foraminal stenosis and particular types of arthritis can count among the causes too.
By far, the herniated disc is the most common problem associated with a pinched nerve. The condition may also be directly related to age or perhaps some defects in the vertebrae – usually causes by general wear and tear.
How the pinched nerve in lower back is diagnosed
You definitely need to reach a doctor if you experience such pains. Only a professional can analyze the situation and give you a proper diagnostic. The doctor will check for particular symptoms around the spine in order to detect the problem.
Some of the tests will work on the motion – the doctor will try to see if there are any limitations in motion. Balance problems are also considered, not to mention the reflexes in your legs when exposed to external factors. Muscular weakness is also considered, as well as changes in sensations when it comes to your feet.
Sometimes, a physical examination might be more than enough for the doctor to observe the issues of a pinched nerve in lower back. Other times, symptoms may not be too obvious, so the doctor must perform additional tests.
Classic X-rays will show the bones in your spine. They will show potential issues with their alignment too. Then, a more advanced MRI will also show the soft tissues. The doctor can take a closer look at the discs in the vertebrae, as well as the nerves and spinal cord.
Finally, the CT scan is probably the most advanced test because it shows everything in very small details. On the same note, the CT scan will also measure the overall functionality of your nerves, telling the doctor everything they need to know before giving a diagnostic.
Once the affection is diagnosed, the doctor will prescribe a treatment based on how severe it is. Generally, such problems are mild and can be treated without too much hassle, yet there are also more problematic situations. Here is everything you should know about the treatment.
Most common treatments
Baseline treatments represent some of the most popular treatments out there. They are noninvasive and they can be handled without any discomfort at all. Baseline is the top choice for a pinched nerve in lower back. In most cases, this treatment will relieve painful sensations and other similar symptoms.
Medication is given in mild and moderate cases. Lots of patients can do without drugs, but those with problematic pains will need this type of treatments. NSAIDs (Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs) represent the most popular choice. Their main role is to reduce the inflammation and ameliorate pains. Oral steroids can also be given, but they require a prescription.
Physical therapy is excellent for a pinched nerve in the back. You can rely on a trained specialist or a personal trainer to work on the symptoms associated with the problematic nerve. Most exercises are mild and will not put too much strain on you – expect some stretches that will give your spine more stability.
Finally, home remedies are great and work along with various other treatments. They mostly represent some lifestyle changes that should go on even after the pain is gone. Rest is mandatory. You will realize that certain positions or movements can trigger the pain and make everything worse. Rest for a few days and avoid such activities or positions. If they are usually associated with work, take some days off.
Ice packs and heat pads provide temporary and relatively fast pain relief too. Apply ice or heat for about 20 minutes. You can alternate between them and take a few such sessions on a daily basis. Now, while rest is recommended, keep in mind that regular exercises and stretches are also needed to relieve pain.
Last, but not least, you may also have to change your sleeping position. Some positions make the situation worse. Discuss your options with the doctor. Most people simply grab a pillow and stick it between their legs.
When it comes to more sophisticated treatments, a doctor can also prescribe injections based on steroids. These injections are normally taken in a clinic or a hospital. They relieve pain and other symptoms if they are too severe.
Surgery represents the last resort. Very few cases end up with a surgery, so you are less likely to get there. The microdiscectomy is a common procedure that brings in a tiny incision in the back. It is worth noting that every surgery has some risks. Plus, recovery periods take time, so you will have to try everything else before getting there.
As a short final conclusion, a pinched nerve in lower back may have different causes and treatments. The good news is it can be treated without too much hassle – just a few lifestyle changes, some physical activity and perhaps some painkillers. More sophisticated treatments can be used in severe situations – such as pinched nerves caused by severe injuries. Most people never get to a surgery though, as the problem can be sorted within weeks only.
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