As a chiropractor, I deal with neck and back pain on a daily basis. The majority of the time when a new patient comes in, they tell me right away that they have a pinched nerve. Because I hear this so often, and because it is usually wrong, I want to go through the most common causes of neck and back pain with you. If you are reading this, I assume either you or someone close to you is having pain right now, and you are looking for options to relieve the pain. It is my hope that the following will assist you in making an informed decision on the appropriate treatment to seek out.
Let me start out by saying that probably 90% of most back or neck pain is related to muscles or joints. These are things that are work related, posture related, sleep related, stress related, etc. For example poor postures, or muscle imbalances, or repetitive stresses at work will cause poor alignment of the spine and lead to pain. Sleeping in an awkward position may also cause certain muscles to spasm or put excessive strain on a joint causing a considerable amount of pain. Finally, stressful times in your life can cause muscle tension, which eventually leads to lack of blood flow in those tissues, and inevitably will result in pain.
Are you still convinced that you have a pinched nerve? Well, let’s take a look at some of the indicators that you may have a pinched nerve and go from there. Typically if there is a true pinched nerve, the pain will have started in the neck or low back, and then noticeable pain going down the arm or leg. Initially the neck or low back pain would have probably been worse, but not long after, the arm or leg pain got worse. Many times, if it is really a pinched nerve, the arm or leg pain will completely outweigh the back or neck pain. Another indicator that it may really be a pinched nerve is if coughing, sneezing, or laughing increases the radiating pain down the arm or leg. Finally, if there is associated weakness or a loss of sensation somewhere in the arm or leg, it is definitely time to get help.
You may be wondering now, what causes pinched nerves? Most of the time it happens as the nerve leaves the spine at a place called the intervertebral foramen. They can result from a disc herniation, degeneration of the spine, or spinal stenosis. Sometimes, the nerve can be irritated at a site away from the spine. This is usually from muscle imbalances, where there is excessive tension in the back of the hip or the front of the shoulder. When it is in the back of the hip or buttock with pain down the leg it may be called sciatica due to a piriformis syndrome. If it is pain down the arm and related to the shoulder and not the neck it could be thoracic outlet syndrome.
Regardless of what type of pain you are experiencing; it may be time to have a specialist take a look. Chiropractors treat all of the above conditions by relieving pain, helping tissues heal faster, and correcting biomechanics to prevent the injury from returning. Typically an exam is performed to give a precise diagnosis, and then treatment is rendered. Treatments may consist of electric stimulation therapy, massage or myofascial release, stretching of tight muscles, showing proper exercises, and finally spinal manipulation to properly align the joints of the spine. Also, if it is truly a pinched nerve from the spine, decompression will more than likely be a part of the treatment plan. This technique helps to take pressure off of the nerves to offer immediate relief as well as allowing the area to heal. For more information or to schedule an appointment you may call our office at 314-822-5300.
None of the above should be used in diagnosing yourself or to begin your own treatment plan. Neck or back pain, and especially nerve injuries can be very serious, and an evaluation and treatment should be performed by a licensed doctor.