Lumbar (Low Back) Pain Nerve Compression

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Is Nerve Compression to Blame for Your Low Back Pain?

As a cause of low back pain, nerve compression is frequently an issue that is actually being caused by a breakdown of some other spinal process. Weaving in and around the spine is a vast network of nerves. These nerves are responsible for transmitting feeling and sensation throughout the body. When one of the spinal nerves in the lumbar spine become compressed, or pinched, it disrupts function – often resulting in pain, tingling and weakness in the low back.

Understanding Nerve Compression as a Cause of Lumbar Spine Pain

To paint a better picture of what a compressed nerve is and how it contributes to low back pain, it’s important to understand the makeup of the spine and surrounding structures. The spine is composed of a string of small bones, called vertebrae, which stack on top of one another to create a protective home for the spinal cord. In between each vertebra is a pillow-like disc, which cushions the bones and protects them from the impact of everyday living, such as walking, running, twisting, and bending. Each of these intervertebral discs has a soft gel-like center surrounded by a hard yet flexible outer wall.

Encircling the spinal canal is a network of “electric cables” (nerves) which carry messages between your brain and your body. The nerves make muscles move and enable sensation and feeling. The nerve roots branch out from the spinal cord through the openings in the vertebrae. Normally, these nerves travel unaffected to a designated space.

A compressed nerve occurs when an outside force applies pressure to the nerve, disrupting its flow. Nerves are most vulnerable at places in the body where they travel through very narrow spaces, such as the spinal canal. When surrounding bones, cartilage, muscles or other tissue are damaged, they can “pinch” the nerve, resulting in feelings of radiating low back pain, weakness, numbness, and tingling that follow the path of the nerve. The feeling of a compressed nerve is often described as a “pins and needles” sensation, as the nerve is struggling to transmit its signal. Feeling a burning, or a hot/cold sensation is also common.

There can be a number of causes for compressed nerves. One of the most common is a bulging, or herniated lumbar disc in the low back. Due to injury or just repetitive wear and tear, the jelly-like center of the disc may push against its outer wall, and eventually rupture the disc. The soft inside will bulge out and put pressure on the nerve root, causing lumbar pain and weakness.

Degenerative changes can also be to blame for a compressed nerve. As a common part of the aging process, the discs begin to dehydrate and loose volume. This diminishes the space between each vertebra, and puts them at higher risk of coming into direct contact. When the body senses the loss of cushion between the joints, it will begin to manufacture deposits of bone around the joints, in an effort to restore stability. When these deposits become too large, they may bulge out and compress adjacent nerves.
Anything that adds extra pressure to the spine and nerves can be considered a risk factor: Poor posture, frequent repetitive movements, and carrying excess body weight are at the top of the list.
Suffering from a compressed nerve is a common problem, and resolution of symptoms varies from person to person. For some, resting the injured area can bring relief of pain. For more severe cases, escalated treatment may be necessary. Talk to a spine health professional about the right compressed nerve treatment for your low back pain.

Tips for Preventing and Managing Low Back Pain at Home

  • Regular stretching and exercise can help prevent and ease low back pain.
  • When lifting heavy objects, use your legs for leverage, not your back.
  • Walk cautiously and wear shoes with good traction when walking on slippery surfaces.
  • Consult a spine specialist for severe low back pain that hasn’t resolved with conservative methods in a few weeks.

Health Tips

  • Always eat breakfast
  • Eat your fruit and veg
  • Take time to shop each week
  • Sit down at the table to eat
  • Get adequate rest daily.

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