Pinched Spinal Nerve

Dr. Vivek Loomba > Services > Pain conditions > Pinched Spinal Nerve

Pinched Spinal Nerve


A pinched spinal nerve, also known as a compressed nerve or nerve impingement, occurs when excessive pressure is applied to a nerve in the spinal column. This compression can result in pain, weakness, numbness, or tingling sensations along the pathway of the affected nerve.

Where do pinched nerves occur in your body?

Pinched nerves can occur in various parts of the body, but they are most commonly seen in the following areas –

  1. Neck (Cervical spine) – Pinched nerves in the cervical spine can cause symptoms in the neck, shoulders, arms, and hands. This is often referred to as cervical radiculopathy or a “pinched nerve in the neck.”
  2. Lower back (Lumbar spine) – Pinched nerves in the lumbar spine can cause symptoms in the lower back, buttocks, legs, and feet. This is commonly referred to as lumbar radiculopathy or sciatica.
  3. Wrist (Carpal tunnel) – The median nerve can become compressed as it passes through the carpal tunnel in the wrist, leading to symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. This can cause pain, numbness, and tingling in the hand and fingers.
  4. Elbow (Cubital tunnel) – The ulnar nerve can become pinched or compressed at the elbow, resulting in symptoms such as pain, tingling, and weakness in the forearm, hand, and fingers. This is known as cubital tunnel syndrome.
  5. Shoulder –  Pinched nerves in the shoulder can be caused by conditions such as rotator cuff injuries, shoulder impingement, or cervical spine issues. Symptoms may include shoulder pain, weakness, and limited range of motion.

Pinched nerves can occur in other areas of the body as well, such as the hips, knees, or feet, depending on the specific nerve involved and the underlying cause. If you suspect you have a pinched nerve or are experiencing symptoms suggestive of nerve compression, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.


A pinched spinal nerve, also known as nerve impingement or compressed nerve, can occur due to various factors that lead to pressure on the nerve roots in the spinal column. Some common causes include –

  1. Herniated Disc – A herniated disc is one of the primary causes of nerve impingement. It happens when the soft inner core of a spinal disc pushes through a tear or rupture in the outer disc layer, compressing nearby nerve roots.
  2. Spinal Stenosis – Spinal stenosis refers to the narrowing of the spinal canal, which can put pressure on the nerves. It can be caused by conditions like osteoarthritis, where bone spurs or overgrowths of bone can encroach upon the spinal canal.
  3. Bone Spurs – Bone spurs, also known as osteophytes, are bony projections that can develop along the edges of the bones in the spine. These spurs can encroach upon the space around the spinal nerves, leading to compression.
  4. Degenerative Disc Disease – Over time, the discs between the vertebrae can wear down, lose their cushioning ability, and become less hydrated. This degeneration can contribute to the narrowing of the disc space and the development of conditions like disc bulges or osteophytes, which can lead to nerve compression.
  5. Spondylolisthesis – Spondylolisthesis occurs when one vertebra slips forward over the adjacent vertebra, causing instability and potential nerve compression. This condition can be congenital or develop due to age-related degeneration or trauma.
  6. Spinal Injuries – Traumatic events such as fractures, dislocations, or spinal cord injuries can result in nerve impingement if the structures of the spine become misaligned or damaged.
  7. Poor Posture and Alignment – Prolonged poor posture, repetitive movements, or activities that strain the spine can contribute to nerve compression over time.
  8. Tumors or Abnormal Growths – In rare cases, tumors or abnormal growths in the spinal column can put pressure on the nerves and lead to nerve impingement.

The specific cause of nerve impingement can vary depending on the location and individual circumstances. If you suspect you have a pinched spinal nerve, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or a spine specialist for a proper evaluation, diagnosis, and appropriate treatment options.


Symptoms of a pinched spinal nerve, also known as nerve impingement or compressed nerve, can vary depending on the location and severity of the compression. Here are common symptoms associated with a pinched spinal nerve –

  1. Pain – Persistent or sharp pain is a typical symptom of a pinched nerve. The pain may be localized to the area where the nerve is pinched or may radiate along the nerve pathway. The intensity and nature of the pain can vary from mild to severe and may worsen with certain movements or activities.
  2. Numbness or tingling – You may experience numbness or tingling sensations in the area supplied by the affected nerve. This can manifest as a “pins and needles” sensation or a feeling of reduced sensitivity in the affected region. The numbness or tingling may extend along the nerve pathway.
  3. Muscle weakness – Compression of the nerve can lead to muscle weakness in the area supplied by the affected nerve. Weakness may make it difficult to perform certain movements or tasks, and you may notice a decrease in strength or coordination in the affected muscles.
  4. Radiating pain – If a nerve root in the spinal column is affected, the pain may radiate along the nerve pathway, extending into other parts of the body. For example, a pinched nerve in the neck (cervical spine) may cause pain that radiates down the arm and into the hand.
  5. Sensory changes – Along with numbness or tingling, you may experience changes in sensation, such as hypersensitivity or heightened sensitivity to touch, temperature, or pressure in the affected area.
  6. Muscle spasms – Pinched nerves can sometimes trigger muscle spasms in the area supplied by the affected nerve. These spasms may be painful and can contribute to further compression and discomfort.
  7. Changes in reflexes – Nerve compression can affect reflexes associated with the affected nerve. Reflexes may be diminished or absent in the area supplied by the pinched nerve.

The symptoms may vary depending on the specific nerve affected and the underlying cause of the nerve compression. If you suspect you have a pinched spinal nerve or are experiencing persistent pain, numbness, weakness, or other concerning symptoms, it is recommended to seek medical evaluation and guidance from a healthcare professional or a spine specialist for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Diagnosis and Tests

When diagnosing a pinched spinal nerve, healthcare professionals may use a combination of clinical assessment, medical history review, and diagnostic tests to confirm the presence and location of the nerve compression. Here are some common diagnostic tests used for evaluating pinched spinal nerves –

1. Imaging tests

  • X-rays – X-rays can help visualize the bony structures of the spine and identify any abnormalities, such as fractures, bone spurs, or misalignments.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – An MRI provides detailed images of the spine, discs, and nerves. It can detect herniated discs, spinal stenosis, tumors, and other soft tissue abnormalities.
  • Computed Tomography (CT) scan – A CT scan can provide detailed cross-sectional images of the spine, helping to identify bony abnormalities, fractures, or degenerative changes.

2. Electromyography (EMG) – EMG measures the electrical activity of muscles and can help determine if there is nerve damage or dysfunction. It involves inserting a small needle electrode into specific muscles to evaluate nerve signal transmission.

3. Nerve Conduction Studies (NCS) – NCS measures the speed and strength of electrical impulses as they travel along the nerves. It helps determine if there is nerve damage or disruption in the nerve pathway.

4. Physical examination – A healthcare professional may perform a physical examination to assess muscle strength, reflexes, sensation, and range of motion. They may also perform specific maneuvers or tests to reproduce or alleviate symptoms associated with the pinched nerve.

5. Diagnostic injections – In some cases, diagnostic injections, such as selective nerve root blocks or facet joint injections, may be used to help identify the specific nerve root or structure causing the symptoms. These injections involve the targeted delivery of local anesthetic or corticosteroids to temporarily alleviate pain and confirm the suspected source of nerve compression.

The choice of diagnostic tests will depend on the individual case and the suspected location of the pinched spinal nerve. Your healthcare professional or a spine specialist will determine the most appropriate tests based on your symptoms, medical history, and physical examination findings.


The treatment of a pinched spinal nerve aims to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, improve mobility, and address the underlying cause of the nerve compression. The specific treatment approach may vary depending on the severity of symptoms, the location of the pinched nerve, and individual factors. Here are some common treatment options for a pinched spinal nerve –

1. Conservative treatments

  • Rest and activity modification – Limiting activities that worsen symptoms and allowing the body to heal naturally.
  • Pain management – Over-the-counter pain medications (e.g., nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) or prescription medications may be recommended to manage pain and reduce inflammation.
  • Physical therapy – Targeted exercises, stretches, and manual therapy techniques can help improve strength, flexibility, and posture, as well as alleviate pressure on the pinched nerve.
  • Heat or cold therapy – Applying heat or cold packs to the affected area can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain.
  • Assistive devices – Braces, splints, or supports may be used to stabilize the affected area and reduce strain on the pinched nerve.

2. Medications

  • Oral corticosteroids – These anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed for a short period to reduce swelling and relieve nerve compression.
  • Epidural steroid injections – Steroids can be injected into the epidural space surrounding the affected nerve root to reduce inflammation and provide pain relief.
  • Analgesics or muscle relaxants – These medications may be prescribed to manage pain or relax muscles that may be contributing to nerve compression.

3. Surgical intervention

If conservative treatments fail to provide relief or if the nerve compression is severe and progressive, surgery may be considered. The specific surgical procedure will depend on the underlying cause of the pinched nerve, such as a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, or spinal instability. Surgical options may include discectomy, laminectomy, foraminotomy, or spinal fusion.

4. Other treatments

  • Chiropractic care – Spinal adjustments and manipulations performed by a chiropractor may help relieve nerve compression and improve spinal alignment.
  • Acupuncture – This alternative therapy involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points of the body to alleviate pain and promote healing.
  • Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) – TENS therapy uses a low-voltage electrical current to stimulate nerves and help alleviate pain.

The choice of treatment depends on several factors, including the severity of symptoms, the underlying cause of the pinched nerve, and individual patient characteristics. It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional or a spine specialist who can evaluate your condition and recommend the most appropriate treatment options for your specific case.


While it may not be possible to prevent all cases of pinched spinal nerves, there are certain measures you can take to reduce the risk of developing this condition. Here are some prevention strategies –

  1. Maintain good posture – Practice proper posture while sitting, standing, and lifting heavy objects. This helps keep the spine aligned and reduces unnecessary stress on the spinal nerves.
  2. Exercise regularly – Engage in regular exercise to strengthen the muscles that support the spine. Focus on exercises that promote core strength, flexibility, and overall body conditioning.
  3. Lift objects properly – When lifting heavy objects, use your legs and not your back. Bend your knees, keep the object close to your body, and avoid twisting motions while lifting.
  4. Take breaks during repetitive activities – If your daily activities involve repetitive motions or prolonged sitting, take regular breaks to stretch and change positions. This helps prevent excessive strain on the spine and nerves.
  5. Maintain a healthy weight – Excess body weight puts additional stress on the spine and increases the risk of developing conditions that can lead to nerve compression. Maintain a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise.
  6. Use ergonomic equipment – If you have a desk job or perform tasks that require prolonged sitting or computer use, ensure that your workstation is ergonomically designed. Use an ergonomic chair, maintain proper keyboard and mouse placement, and adjust the height of your computer monitor to reduce strain on the neck and back.
  7. Avoid excessive strain or trauma to the spine – Take precautions to avoid excessive strain or trauma to the spine, such as practicing safe sports techniques, using proper lifting techniques, and wearing protective gear when necessary.
  8. Seek prompt treatment for spine-related conditions – If you have conditions that can contribute to nerve compression, such as herniated discs, spinal stenosis, or degenerative disc disease, seek early diagnosis and appropriate treatment to manage the condition and reduce the risk of nerve impingement.

While these preventive measures can reduce the risk of developing a pinched spinal nerve, it’s important to remember that not all cases can be prevented. If you experience persistent or worsening symptoms suggestive of a pinched nerve, it’s important to seek medical evaluation and treatment from a healthcare professional or a spine specialist.


The outlook for a pinched spinal nerve depends on various factors, including the underlying cause, the severity of the nerve compression, and the effectiveness of treatment. In many cases, with proper treatment and management, the outlook is generally positive, and most people experience relief from their symptoms. However, the timeline for recovery can vary from person to person.

Conservative treatments, such as rest, physical therapy, pain management, and lifestyle modifications, are often effective in relieving symptoms and improving function for many individuals with pinched spinal nerves. These treatments aim to reduce inflammation, alleviate pressure on the nerve, improve muscle strength and flexibility, and promote healing. With time and adherence to treatment plans, symptoms may gradually diminish, and normal activities can be resumed.

In more severe or persistent cases, where conservative treatments do not provide sufficient relief, surgical intervention may be considered. The success of surgery depends on several factors, including the specific procedure performed, the underlying condition being addressed, and individual factors. Surgical options can vary from minimally invasive procedures, such as discectomy or decompression surgeries, to more extensive procedures like spinal fusion. It’s necessary to discuss the risks, benefits, and potential outcomes of surgery with a qualified healthcare professional or spine specialist.

In some instances, despite appropriate treatment, a pinched spinal nerve may cause chronic or recurring symptoms. This can vary depending on the extent of nerve damage, the presence of underlying degenerative conditions, or other factors. In such cases, a multidisciplinary approach involving pain management, physical therapy, and ongoing self-care measures may be necessary to manage symptoms and improve quality of life.