The term "pinched nerve" refers to compression of some sort on one of the delicate spinal nerves that branch off the spinal cord and travel to the distal parts of the body. In the low back or lumbar spine, a pinched nerve is often caused by a herniated disc or by the formation of bone spurs with osteoarthritis. Long-term dysfunction in the spinal biomechanics leads to the breakdown of the disc and the joint. A worn-out disc can bulge outside of its normal confines and put pressure on a nerve. Symptoms of a pinched nerve can include local or radiating pain, numbness, tingling and weakness. There are a variety of treatment options available.
Ice or Heat
The symptoms of a pinched nerve in the low back can be often relieved with the use of ice or heat. In the initial 72 hours after onset, it is best to use ice. Ice reduces inflammation that may be irritating the spinal nerves. Heat increases blood flow and therefore inflammation, but may be very helpful in relaxing muscles after 72 hours. Never apply any ice or heat pack directly on the skin. Instead, wrap it in a thin towel and apply for 20 minutes every two hours.
In many cases, a pinched nerve is caused, in part, by tight and short muscles. Gentle stretching of the low back, pelvic and leg muscles can reduce strain on the lumbar spine. It is appropriate to have a back-care specialist diagnose your pain before beginning any strenuous exercise program as it is possible to aggravate your condition with the wrong exercises.
Chiropractors diagnose and treat all types of back pain and are concerned with proper spinal function. Spinal manipulation or adjustments can restore motion to joints that are not moving appropriately, which relieves excessive stress on the spine. According to the American Chiropractic Association, numerous studies have shown chiropractic care to be both safe and effective at relieving low back pain.
There are several different medication options in treating back pain due to a pinched nerve. The first is aimed at simply masking the pain, and many over-the-counter NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen, aspirin or naproxen can help reduce pain and inflammation. If pain is severe, your doctor can prescribe a more potent painkiller. If your pinched nerve is being aggravated by muscle spasms, you may benefit from a prescription muscle relaxer.
According to the Mayo Clinic, if conservative treatments fail, surgery may be an option. If your pinched nerve is caused by a herniated disc, a surgeon may be able to trim the offending portion of the bulging disc and relieve the pressure on the nerve. If arthritic bone spurs are putting pressure on the nerve, again, a surgeon may be able to remove the bone spur and alleviate the pain.