Your spinal cord consists of a collection of nerves that relay incoming and outgoing messages between the brain and the rest of your body. The cord is covered by protective layers called meninges, but that doesn’t mean it’s unable to become damaged. When a vertebral disc or another spinal structure pushes up against or irritates some of the nerves housed in the spinal cord, this is know as spinal cord or spinal nerve compression. We explain how we treat compressed spinal nerves in today’s blog.
Causes and Symptoms Of Spinal Nerve Compression
Your spinal nerves can become compressed in a number of different ways, but there are two main umbrella categories that these causes tend to fall under. There are acute causes from trauma or impact, like following a car accident, a fall or being tackled in football, and there non-acute causes, like as a result of natural aging or microtrauma and natural degeneration over the years. Non-acute compression as a result of osteoarthritis-related spinal shifting is one of the most common causes of spinal nerve compression.
Symptoms of a compressed spinal nerve can develop quickly or gradually over time. Common symptoms include:
- Pain in the area of compression
- Pain that travels to the extremities
- Stiffness in the neck or back
- Muscle weakness
- Gait changes
Depending on where the compression occurs, other symptoms can also arise. For example, if the spinal nerves are compressed in the lumbar spine, you may experience severe pain, severe numbness and loss of bladder control. Any of the above symptoms suggest you should see a doctor, but the extreme symptoms or loss of bowel control mean you need to seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Diagnosing And Treating Spinal Nerve Compression
The diagnostic process begins with your spine specialist asking about your symptoms and by reviewing your medical history. From there, they’ll conduct a physical exam to look for areas of weakness or if certain movements cause symptoms or worsen or alleviate. They will likely have a good idea what’s going on in your spine at this point, but they’ll typically want to confirm their suspicions with imaging tests. For example, an x-ray can see if bone spurs are compressing your spinal nerves, or an MRI or CT scan can provide a more detailed look into your spinal canal.
Once your specialist has pinpointed the location of your compression, they’ll walk you through some treatment options. For many causes of compression, physical therapy and stretching techniques can help to calm irritation. Other common treatment options include pain medications, anti-inflammatory medications, weight loss, spinal injections and controlled exercise. Many people experience good results with these treatments, but if compression persists, a minimally invasive surgical operation can typically remove the compressing object or shift your spine back to a natural location.
For more information about compressed spinal nerves, or for help treating your spinal condition, reach out to Dr, Chang’s office today.