Understanding and Alleviating the Pain of a Pinched Nerve in Your Back

Understanding and Alleviating the Pain of a Pinched Nerve in Your Back

By Professional Physical Therapy

A pinched nerve in your lower back can be a source of significant discomfort, affecting daily activities and your overall well-being. Common symptoms are the feeling of pins and needles, numbness, burning, and tingling.  And sometimes it does not take much to cause it. Poor posture or repetitive activities are enough to create a pinched nerve. Thankfully, there are a few home remedies you can try to help. Physical therapy can play a crucial role in alleviating the pain and discomfort associated with a pinched nerve, as well as help you develop strategies to prevent future occurrences.

What is a Pinched Nerve?

Although pinched nerves can occur almost anywhere, the spine (lumbar region of the spine or lower back) accounts for a significant percentage of cases. A pinched nerve, also known as nerve compression or radiculopathy, happens when excessive pressure is applied to a nerve by surrounding tissues, such as muscles, tendons, or bones. In the back, this commonly occurs in the lower part of the spine where nerves exit the spinal cord. When a nerve is pinched, it cannot function properly and over time it can cause chronic pain.

Causes of a Pinched Nerve in the Back

Several conditions can lead to a pinched nerve in the lower back, including:

  1. Herniated Discs: Spinal discs tend to wear out as we age. A nerve can be pinched when a spinal disc brakes down and pushes outside of its normal place (herniates). A herniated disc presses on (or pinches) a nearby nerve.
  2. Spinal Stenosis: Narrowing of the spinal canal can compress nerves.
  3. Bone Spurs (or osteophytes): Overgrowth of bone can develop and press on nerves.
  4. Poor Posture: Maintaining improper posture for extended periods can contribute to nerve compression.
  5. Injuries: Accidents or trauma may lead to pinched nerves.
  6. Repetitive Activities: Performing the same motions repeatedly may cause irritation.

Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve in Your Back

Symptoms may come and go and include the following. Symptoms may also become worse with certain activities like sitting or sneezing/coughing.

  1. Pain: Sharp, shooting, or burning sensation that radiates to the lower back or buttocks. Pain can also extend down one leg and possibly to your foot.
  2. Tingling and Numbness: A “pins and needles” sensation or loss of feeling in the area supplied by the affected nerve.
  3. Muscle Weakness: Difficulty in controlling or moving affected muscles. If you have a pinched nerve in your lower back, you may experience muscle weakness in your upper leg which could lead to trouble walking.

How to Get Rid of a Pinched Nerve – At-Home Treatments

Lower back treatment for a pinched nerve usually starts with physical therapy and activity modifications. But here are a few home remedies that can help minimize pain and speed up your recovery.

  1. Rest: Rest is the best thing you can give your body. It allows the affected area to rest and avoid activities that worsen the symptoms.
  2. Keep Your Legs Elevated: Lie down and keep your legs elevated upwards to take pressure off your spine. You can also stack a few pillows under your knees to create a 45-degree angle with your legs and body to relieve your spine of extra tension.
  3. Ice and Heat Therapy: Apply ice to reduce inflammation and heat to relax muscles can offer relief.
  4. Over-the-Counter Medications: Non-prescription pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help manage pain and inflammation.
  5. Walking*: While it won’t un-pinch a nerve, walking can relieve stress on a pinched nerve in the back. Walking can also increase blood circulation to the damage nerve, which may facilitate healing and reduce pain.
  6. Gentle Stretching/Positions*: When dealing with a pinched nerve, gentle stretching and positional exercises will aim to centralize pain. This means trying to move the pain closer to the middle of the back and away from your extremities, which can help alleviate the pressure on the nerve and reduce pain.
    • For pain related to bulging discs or herniated disks you can try lumbar spinal extension positions. While lying flat on your stomach, place your hands on the floor near your shoulders. Then, push up raising your back and shoulders while keeping your forearms on the floor. Hold this position for 30 seconds. This position helps realign the discs.
    • For pinched nerve related to spinal stenosis knee to chest stretches may be beneficial. Lie on your back, then pull both of your knees to your chest and hold this position for 30 seconds. Another helpful movement is the pelvic tilt. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor, arms at your sides. Slowly push the small of your back into the floor by tightening your stomach muscles and hold the position for 10 seconds.

*Monitoring how your body responds to these exercises is crucial, as the goal is to find relief and not exacerbate the pain. As you engage in the suggested exercises, it’s important to pay close attention to any changes in your symptoms. These exercises should not increase your pain or cause it to spread to other areas. Instead, look for signs of pain centralization, such as a reduction in the intensity of pain or a more localized pain area. This is an indication that the exercises are effectively reducing the stress and load on the nerve.

It is also essential to perform these exercises gently and gradually, always listen to your body. If an exercise increases pain or discomfort, stop and consult with a physical therapist. They can provide guidance on modifications to ensure the exercises are both safe and beneficial for your specific condition.

How Physical Therapy Can Help a Pinched Nerve

Physical therapy plays a crucial role in alleviating the pain and discomfort associated with a pinched nerve in the back and is considered to be one of the the most effective for treatment. A skilled physical therapist can help identify the cause and develop a personalized treatment plan to address the specific needs of the individual, focusing on reducing pain from nerve compression and improving mobility. They also focus on promoting overall spine health including strategies for preventing future occurrences.

Physical therapy can be very beneficial. Treatment can include:

  1. Targeted Exercises
  2. Manual Therapy
  3. Postural Education
  4. Pain Management
  5. Activity Modification
  6. Ergonomic Education
  7. Home Exercise Program/Progressive Rehabilitation

Preventing a Pinched Nerve in Your Back

Pinched nerves can be avoided if you can:

  1. Maintain Good Posture: Be mindful of your posture, especially during prolonged periods of sitting or standing.
  2. Exercise Regularly: Strengthening core muscles and maintaining flexibility can support a healthy spine.
  3. Take Breaks: If your work involves repetitive movements, take breaks to avoid overexertion.
  4. Use Ergonomic Equipment: Ensure your workspace is designed to support good posture.
  5. Stay Active: Regular physical activity helps keep muscles and joints flexible.
  6. Lift Properly: When lifting heavy objects, use your legs and not your back to minimize strain.

While a pinched nerve in the back can be a painful and limiting condition, understanding its causes, symptoms, and treatment options empowers individuals to take proactive measures for relief and prevention. Incorporating lifestyle changes, maintaining good posture, and seeking professional help when needed can contribute to a healthy, pain-free back.

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you need with Professional Physical Therapy.  Request an appointment for an assessment and/or physical therapy evaluation, so you can get your life healthier and more comfortable today!

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