Pinched Nerves and Back Pain: What Really Happens?

Pinched Nerves and Back Pain What Really Happens

The medical term for a pinched nerve is “radiculopathy”.

Nerves are electrical cords in the body that carry signals between your brain and the rest of your body.

There are two kinds of nerves: sensory and motor. Motor nerves carry information from the brain to the rest of the body. These are the nerves that make your muscles move and regulate the function of the organs. Sensory nerves, on the other hand, send information from the rest of the body back to the brain.

Information travels both ways through the use of an electrochemical signal. When the nerve is pinched, these signals are interrupted.

What Causes Pinched Nerves in the Back?

A pinched nerve might be associated with a ruptured disc, slipped disc, degenerative disc disease or a prolapsed disc. These conditions lead to a pinched nerve when the nerve that travels through the backbone is compressed leading to symptoms that include numbness, tingling and burning pain.

The causes vary in nature but most of them have something to do with poor posture that puts a lot of pressure on the spinal disc that is situated between the vertebral bodies, which eventually causes wear and tear of the disc. When this happens, the affected area comes in contact with the nerve thereby causing symptoms.

A wrong pull of the muscle after a sudden twisting motion or improper lifting might cause a pinched nerve in your back. In such a case, the muscles that are involved in the motion might lead to abnormal pressure causing a dull pain. At times the pain is sharp and excruciating.

Additionally, injury to your back that results in compression of the nerve can lead to the condition. Another common cause of injury is repetitive stress-related injuries, osteoporotic fractures as well as degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis.

What are the Common Symptoms?

A pinched nerve in the back doesn’t take place within a short time. Although symptoms can come fast, it takes some time before enough pressure is exerted on the nerve to lead to severe pain or symptoms.

Another common symptom is numbness. This can be a part of the back that loses much of its feeling, weakness in the region where the nerve serves. This can be in the back or even in the legs.

There can also be a sharp pain in the area of the pinched nerve, mostly pain in the legs. Associated symptoms include twitching of muscles or muscular spasms.

Another tell-tale sign is chronic back pain and weakness, which points to a partially compressed nerve. The pain from a pinched nerve can be localized, diffuse or radiating. The nature of the pain depends wholly on how severe the impingement is and the location of impingement.


When the doctor suspects a pinched nerve, you might have to undergo some tests. These might include:

Nerve Study

This test is used to measure the nerve impulses as well as the functioning of the muscles. The test makes use of electrodes that are placed at certain points on the skin.

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Electromyography (EMG)

The doctor inserts an electrode into various muscles to evaluate the activity of the muscles as they contract. The results tell the doctor about the state of the nerves supplying the muscles.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

This uses a magnetic field and radio waves to give a detailed view of the body in planes. This is used to show nerve root compression.


The doctor uses high-res ultrasound to produce images of the structure within the body.


The most common treatment for the condition is to rest the affected area. You need to stop any activities that aggravate the compression. You might need a brace or a splint for the affected area.

Physical therapy also works for the condition. Here, you perform exercises that stretch and strengthen the muscles in the affected area to relieve pressure on the nerve.

Medications such as NSAIDs can help relieve associated pain. If the pain doesn’t improve after a few weeks, the doctor might recommend surgery to alleviate the pressure on the nerve.


A pinched nerve makes life hard, take time to know the symptoms so that you take the disease with the seriousness it deserves.

References and Further Reading

1. Pinched Nerve Information Page
2. WebMD: Pinched Nerve
3. Radiculopathy & Pinched Nerve Information
4. Pinched Nerve

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