Pinched Nerve in Lower Back or Degenerated Disc

We have many names for a pinched nerve in the lower back: pinched nerve, slipped disc, bulging disc, herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, nerve impingement, and others. These names were created to explain what was happening in the lower back, but they now seem to make things more confusing. In this article, we explain pinched (or pinch) nerve in the lower back and degenerative discs.


How Can You Identify If You Have A Pinched Or Degenerated Disc?

You may have a pinched nerve or degenerated disc if you are experiencing neck or low back pain, especially if you have numbness, weakness, or odd sensations in an arm or leg. Another clue is shooting pain down one of your limbs. A spine surgeon can determine if you have a pinched nerve or degenerated disc.


Pinched Nerve Pain

Pinched nerve pain is known as radiculopathy. When a nerve is pinched, it cannot function properly. A nerve that is slightly pinched may cause only mild symptoms, while a severely pinched nerve often causes severe symptoms.

Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve

The symptoms caused by a pinched nerve vary depending on what kind of nerve is pinched. If the nerve carries sensory information, then a pinch in the nerve will usually cause numbness or a pins and needles sensation (paresthesias). If the nerve carries motor fibers, then a pinch in the nerve will usually cause weakness or, in severe cases, paresis or paralysis. In either case, a pinched nerve causes pain where it is pinched and also sends shooting or electric shock-like pain down the nerve.

Different Types Of Pinch Or Pinched Nerves

Many different nerves can be pinched. Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by pinched nerves in the wrist, for example. In the neck and lower back, a few types of nerves can be pinched. The spinal cord itself can be pinched, which is called myelopathy. If the nerve root in the front of the spine is pinched, it is a motor radiculopathy. If the nerve root in the back of the spine is pinched, it is a sensory radiculopathy.

Pinched Nerves Can Be Caused By:

  • Cause #1: Herniated disc. Spinal discs tend to wear out as we age. A nerve can be pinched when a spinal disc breaks down and pushes outside of its normal place (herniates). The herniated disc presses on (pinches) a nearby nerve.
  • Cause #2: Bone spur. The spine can develop arthritis like other joints of the body. Sometimes a small bit of bone grows in a place it shouldn’t. This bone spur can pinch a nearby nerve.
  • Cause #3: Trauma. An injury to the neck or lower back can change pinch a nerve. A broken spinal bone, spinal swelling, or hematoma (large blood collection) can pinch surrounding nerves.


Degenerated Disc Pain

A degenerated disc may cause pain even without a pinched nerve. Typically, a degenerating disc causes a mild to moderate pain that is more or less present all the time, but that occasionally becomes sharp and severe during a flare. Flares of degenerative disc disease may occur after heavy lifting, odd twisting, or for no obvious reason at all.

Symptoms of a Degenerated Disc

  • Constant, low-grade pain in the neck or lower back
  • Increased pain with certain spinal movements like bending or rotating
  • Feeling as if the neck or lower back may “give out”
  • Back or neck muscle stiffness


Treatment Options

Determine What Is Causing Your Pain: Pinched Nerve or Degenerated Disc

In many cases, a pinched nerve and a degenerated disc occur at the same time, so it may not be possible to tell the difference between them. The only way to definitively determine what is causing your neck or low back pain is to see a doctor. A spine surgeon is the best specialist to accurately to diagnose the cause of your pain. Not only can a spine surgeon diagnose the pain, but they can also offer the best and most appropriate surgical and non-surgical treatments.

  • Treatments include:
  • Selective rest
  • Strength and stretching exercises
  • Non-opioid pain relievers, e.g., acetaminophen
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Physical therapy
  • Massage therapy
  • Injections near the site of the pain
  • Spine surgery


ADR for a Pinched Nerve or Degenerated Disc

Only one in ten people who have a pinched nerve or a degenerated disc need spine surgery, but for those who do, artificial disc replacement (ADR) is often the best solution. During ADR, your spine surgeon will remove the degenerated disc and decompress any nerve that may be pinched. Your spinal neurosurgeon decompresses or “unpinches” the nerve by removing any bits of bone that might be pressing on the nerve and possibly widening the holes in the spinal bone to give the nerve more room.

Once the area is clear of degenerative disc, bone spurs, and any other stricture, an artificial disc is placed between the spinal bones. An artificial spinal disc restores vertical height between spinal bones and allows the bones to bend, extend, and twist much like a healthy spinal disc. Most patients who have pinched nerves or degenerated discs and are treated with ADR report are satisfied with the pain relief and spinal mobility they get from the procedure.


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