Having a Pinched Nerve in Your Lower Back

Your lower back is more susceptible to injury than the other regions of the spine. So, it’s unsurprising that a pinched nerve in the lower back is among the most common spinal injuries. Though a pinched lumbar nerve can often clear up on its own, some patients may need medical attention to resolve their symptoms. 

This article will answer the most common questions about having a pinched nerve in the lower back, including the available treatment options.

What is a Pinched Nerve?

A pinched nerve is a condition that can cause pain and restrict one’s mobility. It develops when adjacent tissue, such as bone, muscle, or cartilage, impinges on a nerve. This can lead to various neurological symptoms, namely weakness, tingling, and numbness in the extremities. 

Though pinched nerves can occur almost anywhere, the spine and, in particular, the lumbar region of the spine, account for a significant percentage of cases. This is due to the spine’s complex structure and the fact that the lower back experiences more strain with motion than the cervical or thoracic spine. This condition is referred to as a pinched lumbar nerve or a pinched nerve in the lower back. 

The nerves of the lumbar spine extend throughout the pelvis, legs, and feet. The sciatic nerve, for example, is the longest nerve in the body and runs from the lower back through the hips and down the backs of the legs. A pinched sciatic nerve can cause persistent back pain, tingling, and other symptoms that are referred to as sciatica.

Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve in Lower Back

The symptoms of a pinched nerve in the lower back include lower back pain that radiates to the buttocks, legs, and feet, along with weakness, numbness, and tingling in the extremities. Pain from a lumbar pinched nerve may be described as sharp, electric, burning, stabbing, or stinging.

In some cases, a pinched nerve in the lower back may also cause muscle spasms, the sensation of the feet “falling asleep”, or a “pins and needles” sensation. These symptoms can vary depending on the severity of the nerve impingement, along with the patient’s overall health.

Spasms in the leg muscles may result from a pinched nerve in the lower back because of abnormal nerve signals. Nerves send signals to muscles throughout the body, causing them to engage. When a nerve in the lower back is pinched, it may send unnecessary signals to the leg muscles, leading to spasms.  

All of these symptoms (radiating pain, numbness, tingling, weakness, and leg muscle spasms) are often described by the term radiculopathy. Lumbar radiculopathy is defined as a condition resulting from a pinched nerve in the spine, and it occurs in an estimated 3 to 5% of the population. 

Foot Drop from a Lumbar Pinched Nerve

Some people experience a symptom known as “foot drop” from a pinched nerve in the lower back. With this symptom, it’s difficult to lift the front area of the foot. So, the foot tends to slap onto the ground when you walk. 

Foot drop can make it difficult to walk around, even for short distances (in advanced cases). If foot drop severely compromises your mobility, your physician may recommend a more aggressive treatment plan to resolve the nerve impingement, like surgery. 

Cauda Equina Syndrome from a Pinched Nerve in the Lower Back

Sometimes, a pinched nerve in the lower back can escalate, leading to a condition known as cauda equina syndrome. This dangerous condition can lead to permanent neurological damage if it’s not promptly treated. So, if you have a pinched nerve in the lower back, keep an eye out for the following warning signs of cauda equina syndrome:

  • Loss of bowel and/or bladder function
  • Saddle anesthesia, which is a loss of sensation in the buttock, genital, and anal region
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Sudden, severe weakness and/or pain in the lower back and extremities

If you experience the warning signs listed above, seek out emergency medical care. 

What Does a Pinched Nerve in Your Back Feel Like?

A pinched nerve in your back may feel like sharp, shooting pain, a burning sensation, weakness in the legs, and/or tingling. In mild cases, patients may experience only minor discomfort or back pain that comes and goes. 

The symptoms of a pinched nerve vary depending on the exact nerve and the extent of the pressure. In addition to the symptoms listed above, this condition can cause a loss of reflexes and motor skills, as well as atrophy of the affected muscles. 

Can Pinched Nerves Go Away On Their Own?. 

The symptoms of pinched nerves will go away on their own if the pressure on the nerves is only temporary. If this is the case, patients will regain the full function of the spine without the need for medical intervention. 

It typically takes four to six weeks for a pinched nerve to go away on its own. To manage your symptoms while this spinal injury naturally heals, consider at-home treatment options like rest and over-the-counter pain medications. While you’re resting with a pinched nerve, make sure to avoid activities that may strain the affected area of the spine, such as:

  • Lifting weights or heavy objects
  • Excessively twisting your back
  • Highly-impact exercise
  • Sitting or standing with poor posture

Can I Exercise With a Pinched Nerve?

You can perform some forms of exercise but not others with a pinched nerve. Gentle, low-impact exercises that don’t strain the spine are considered beneficial for a pinched nerve in the back. This is because they promote circulation, muscle strength, and flexibility. 

The best forms of exercise for a pinched nerve in the back include:

  • Walking
  • Swimming and water aerobics
  • Resistance training
  • Yoga (while avoiding exercises that excessively twist or bend the spine)
  • Tai chi
  • Gentle stretching

Forms of exercise to avoid with a pinched nerve in the lower back include:

  • Weight training
  • Running
  • Cycling
  • High-impact sports, including basketball, tennis, volleyball, soccer, and football, among others
  • HIIT workouts
  • Kickboxing

What If My Pinched Nerve Doesn’t Go Away?

If your pinched nerve doesn’t go away on its own, there are many treatment options available to you. These include:

  • Physical therapy

A physical therapist can provide special exercises to help resolve pinched nerve symptoms. These exercises focus on strengthening the abdominal muscles to better support the spine and stretching the back to alleviate muscle tension. 

  • Manipulation

Spinal manipulation may help ease the symptoms of a pinched nerve by relieving pressure on the affected nerve and promoting circulation to the area. 

  • Medication

Over-the-counter and/or prescription medications may be used to reduce tension in the back muscles and alleviate inflammation in the painful area of the back. 

Is a Massage Good for Pinched Nerves?

Massage therapy is often good for pinched nerves in the lower back. This is because it can help alleviate muscle tension that may be causing or worsening nerve impingement. As a safe and natural treatment option, massage therapy is widely used by patients to help with pain and stiffness from a pinched nerve. 

There are many different types of massage, but the most popular for pinched nerves in the back include deep tissue massages and Swedish massages. Make sure to visit a licensed and reputable massage therapist to prevent further irritating the impinged nerve. 

Can a Chiropractor Fix a Pinched Nerve?

A chiropractor can treat a pinched nerve with manual adjustments, along with remedies like heat/cold therapy and lifestyle changes.

During a chiropractic adjustment, the chiropractor will use their hands or a small instrument to manipulate the spine. This helps restore the proper alignment of the spine, reduce pressure on the spinal nerves, and promote circulation to the injured area. 

How To Prevent a Pinched Nerve?

For virtually any condition, the best therapy is preventive. Pinched nerves and many other spinal problems can be avoided by:

  • Maintaining good posture
  • Remaining physically active and fit
  • Reaching and maintaining a healthy body weight
  • Avoiding unnecessarily straining the back 

How Do I Get Rid of a Pinched Nerve in My Back?

To get rid of a pinched nerve in your back that doesn’t respond to non-surgical treatments, you may want to consider surgery. 

What Does Surgery For a Pinched Nerve in The Back Involve?

When preventative measures and non-invasive treatments fail, surgery for a pinched nerve is a viable option. Spine specialists don’t consider surgery for a pinched nerve in the back unless the patient has undergone six to 12 months of conservative therapies with no notable improvement. Additionally, candidates for pinched nerve surgery typically have severe, chronic pain that diminishes their ability to complete day-to-day tasks. 

Spinal decompression surgery is recommended for some patients who don’t respond to minimally-invasive treatments for a pinched nerve. Spinal decompression therapy can have a dramatic effect on relieving the symptoms of a pinched nerve in the lower back.

The most common form of spinal decompression surgery for a pinched nerve in the back is laminectomy. During this operation, the surgeon removes a small piece of the bone that covers the spinal canal, known as the lamina. Removing some of this bone allows the surgeon to create more space for the affected nerve and resolve the impingement. 

Typically, spinal fusion back surgery is performed in conjunction with decompression surgery to stabilize the spine. Without some form of stabilization, decompression surgery can leave the spine vulnerable to future injury. 

What Happens During Spinal Fusion For a Pinched Nerve Among Other Reasons?

Spinal fusion is performed after decompression surgery. During the procedure, the surgeon positions bone graft material in between the affected vertebrae. Gradually, this bone graft will cause the vertebrae to combine into one bone. 

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This process eradicates all motion between the fused vertebrae, which prevents injuries related to instability of the area. Unfortunately, it also permanently reduces the patient’s mobility and can cause degeneration in the adjacent spinal segments.  

Today, the TOPS (Total Posterior Spine) System provides an alternative to spinal fusion for a pinched nerve in the back. In contrast to spinal fusion, TOPS restores the full range of the spine’s natural motion. It’s also been shown to provide superior outcomes when compared to fusion in clinical studies performed around the world.

The TOPS System presents a great new option for some individuals affected by pinched nerves in the lower back. Contact a medical center that offers the TOPS System in your area to learn more!