The relationship between nerve impingement and back pain

Are you experiencing back pain and wondering what might be the underlying cause?

Packed with information, this guide aims to explore the relationship between nerve impingement and back pain to help you take an informed decision. Learn how to understand, diagnose and manage nerve impingement related back pain. You deserve relief– Let’s get started!


Back pain is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide and is estimated to affect approximately 80% of people at some point in their life. While the exact cause of back pain remains unclear, there is a clear connection between nerve impingement or entrapment, and back pain.

Although a variety of clinical techniques can identify nerve entrapment, few evidence-based treatments exist that directly address the underlying cause.

This comprehensive guide provides an in-depth look at what nerve impingement is, how it can be identified and diagnosed, as well as potential treatments aiming to reduce pain associated with this condition. We hope to provide readers with an understanding of how nerve impingement can cause back pain and help them make more informed decisions about their treatment options.

Explanation of nerve impingement and its relationship to back pain

Nerve impingement refers to when the nerves of the spine are compressed or irritated. These compressions and irritations can result in back pain, numbness, tingling, burning sensations or even complete loss of sensation. Impingement can also cause weakness in certain muscle groups as well as changes in reflexes that are associated with the brain and spinal cord.

Nerve impingement is closely related to other types of back pain such as disc bulges, herniated discs, sciatica and spinal stenosis. When there is a nerve impingement with any of these conditions it results in increased symptoms such as pain and/or numbness. The type and severity of these symptoms vary on a case by case basis but they all generally have similar features involving irritation or compression of nerves.

The exact cause of nerve impingement may vary depending on the condition that is causing it but it generally has something to do with pressure being placed on one or more nerves. With some conditions like herniated discs this pressure is caused by a disc pushing into the spinal cord while vertebrae misalignment can create direct pressure on a nerve root passing through an opening in between two vertebrae. Regardless of the cause, nerve impingement can lead to significant back pain that may require medical intervention for effective symptom management.

Prevalence of nerve impingement-related back pain

Nerve impingement-related back pain is found in a variety of musculoskeletal disorders, including arthritis, scoliosis and herniated discs. The pain associated with nerve impingement generally results from the pressure exerted on the nerve by surrounding structures, such as discs, vertebrae and ligaments. As such, medical professionals use imaging techniques to identify the source of the pressure and then develop a treatment plan to relieve it.

According to recent research, there is an increased prevalence of nerve impingement-related back pain in individuals over the age of 60 years. Additionally, individuals with chronic back ailments are at an increased risk for experiencing painful repercussions from nerve impingement due to their altered structure and activity levels. The uppermost level of preexisting lumbar disc bulgingly can triple the odds that an individual will experience severe symptoms following a minor compression injury.

It is also important to note that conditions commonly associated with neck pain can lead to similar symptoms in other parts of one’s body due to peripheral nerve involvement in those areas. For example, carpal tunnel syndrome is linked both directly and indirectly to tissue entrapment and muscle imbalances associated with spine disorders; hence manifesting as elbow or wrist pain. Such correlations create an opportunity for comprehensive diagnostic testing and treatment plans which focus on spinal health as well as other affected regions throughout one’s body for maximum relief.

Anatomy of the Spine and Nerves

This section will provide an overview of the anatomy of the spine, its associated nerves and how that impacts on nerve impingement.

The spine is a complex structure created from a series of bones (vertebrae), muscles, ligaments and discs. The vertebrae are separated by discs which act as shock absorbers and allow the spine to flex and move.

The seven cervical (neck) vertebrae support movement in the neck, twelve thoracic vertebrae provide stability for the torso, five lumbar (lower back) vertebral bodies support the lower back and tailbone or sacrum forms the bottom of our spine’s base.

The vertebrae protect our spinal cord which contains nerves branching out from it to control bodily movements such as arms, legs, hands and feet movement. Nervous tissue is delicate and along with trauma or injury can become compressed when there are abnormalities such as herniated discs or bone spurs (osteophyte formation). This compression can cause nerve impingement leading to symptoms such as pain radiating down one’s arm or leg due to irritated nerve(s).

Along with pain management techniques precise diagnosis via medical imaging per example MRI is required for long-term benefit from pain management treatments.

Description of the spine and its structures

The spine is an intricate network of bones, muscles, ligaments, and other tissues that work together in a complex relationship to promote stability and mobility. The spine consists of 33 individual bones called vertebrae which stack in an appropriate arrangement to create the spinal column. It connects the head to the pelvis and is composed of four different regions-cervical (neck), thoracic (midback), lumbar (low back) and sacral. Each region has its own unique characteristics including number of vertebrae, physical location as well as size and shape.

In between each vertebrae are shock absorbing intervertebral discs that provide cushioning for spinal movements such as bending or twisting. Furthermore, strong ligaments attach from the vertebral bodies to their adjacent structures providing stability for the spine. Along with these structures are a variety of muscles that aid in supporting core strength, stabilization, flexibility and movement execution throughout the spine’s range of motion. Nerves also inhabit this region with several branches exiting along each side of each spinal area while others branch off within the disc spaces between vertebrae.

Function of nerves in the back

The nerves that branch out from the spinal cord allow the brain to communicate with other parts of the body. In addition to sending motor messages from the brain, these nerves also send sensory information — such as hot, cold and pain impulses — going back to the brain. They are responsible for relaying this information between your arms, legs and even organs like your heart, bladder and digestive system.

When a nerve is impinged or compressed it can cause pain in the corresponding part of your body. Nerve impingement in the lower back can lead to pain in areas including:

– Groin – Buttock – Thigh – Lower leg – Foot/ankle

If a nerve is pinched for any length of time, it can cause irritation and lead to an even more painful condition known as sciatica. Sciatica is characterized by sharp stabbing pains that travel down the legs along with numbness or a tingling sensation radiating into one’s feet. This can severely limit one’s range of motion as it become difficult to stand or sit without experiencing severe discomfort. Treatment focuses on releasing whatever may be pressuring the affected nerve, typically through massage therapy and other conservative methods such as ice and heat therapy or posture work.

III. Causes of Back Pain Related to Nerve Impingement

Nerve root impingement, or pinched nerves, is a common cause of back pain. Nerve root impingement can occur when the tissue that houses and superficial connective tissue surrounding the nerve become inflamed or torn. This will cause pressure or nerve compression resulting in back pain.

The most common causes of nerve root impingement related back pain include:

  • Tumors: Both benign and malignant tumors can grow in the area near the spine, leading to radiating symptoms down the extremity due to pressure on the nerve.
  • Degenerative disc disease: This occurs when discs between vertebrae wear down and collapse into each other leading to changes in levels of mobility and stability of discs which may put more direct pressure on surrounding nerve roots leading to impingement.
  • Bone spurs: These are bony projections that arise from bones due to wear and tear or osteoarthritis. They may compress nerves if they grow large enough causing painful nerve compression syndrome.
  • Disc herniation: This is when a weak point in a disc leads it bulge outwards potentially pressing on sensitive nerves causing referred pain.
  • Spinal Stenosis: This is more common with age as bone spurs form around the spinal canal leading it to become narrower thus increasing pressure on nerve roots exiting through it.

Herniated or bulging discs

Herniated or bulging discs are a common and painful issue, often resulting from a compromised lumbar spine. This condition occurs when a soft, disc-like structure between the vertebrae becomes inadequately supported, resulting in a rupture or bulge that puts pressure on the spinal nerve roots.

Symptoms may include localized or shooting pain that radiates from the back, as well as numbness, pins and needles sensations or tingling in the legs. While these symptoms can be managed with lifestyle changes and anti-inflammatory medicines, there is no clear way to fully repair herniated discs. Some surgical options are available for those who qualify.

Spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a common cause of nerve impingement and back pain. It is a condition where the spine narrows, compressing the spinal cord or its nerve roots, decreasing their ability to function properly. This narrowing can occur in any region of the spine, but often happens in the lower back due to structural changes that occur within aging.

Common signs and symptoms of spinal stenosis include muscle weakness, pain that radiates down one or both legs (sciatica), numbness in the legs, tingling sensations and difficulty walking. It is important to visit a doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

Treatment options may include anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy exercises and even surgery depending on how severe your symptoms are.

Diagnosis of Back Pain Related to Nerve Impingement

Before a diagnosis of nerve impingement can be made, a doctor must conduct a physical exam and obtain imaging studies of the back to assess any structural changes that may have occurred. Imaging studies such as X-rays and MRI can reveal narrowed spinal canals, herniated discs, or other skeletal abnormalities. Image-guided injections, such as CT-guided steroid injections near the area of impingement, may also be ordered to provide diagnostic information and to help with pain relief.

Additional diagnosis tools used for nerve impingement include NCV (nerve conduction velocity testing) to measure the speed of electrical impulses through nerves, and EMG (electromyography) to evaluate muscle function across multiple muscles in order identify where there is an interference with nerve signals from the spine. Additionally, doctors may request an ultrasound assessment to check for swelling or inflammation around nerves in the upper back or neck area.

Medical history and physical examination

A comprehensive medical history and physical examination are critical in determining the cause of nerve impingement and back pain. Your doctor or a medical professional will ask about your medical history, lifestyle habits, and symptoms. They may also perform a physical exam to check for tenderness, swelling, muscle strength and range of movement. During the physical examination, your doctor or medical professional may test your reflexes or use imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans or MRIs to help diagnose conditions such as pinched nerves.

It’s important to be thorough when describing symptoms in order to provide accurate diagnosis. The more information that you provide, the more well-informed decision your doctor can make to ensure effective treatment plans.

Imaging tests such as X-ray, MRI or CT scan

Imaging tests such as X-rays, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or Computed Tomography (CT) scans are often necessary to determine the source of back pain and nerve impingement.

X-rays provide images of bones and can assist in evaluating aspects such as degeneration, fractures, arthritis, deformed vertebrae and other possible causes of back pain. MRIs create detailed pictures of soft tissue such as nerves and tendons, while CT scans provide cross-sectional images that allow a doctor to look at the spine’s structure quickly.

It is important to note that these types of imaging tests may not always be helpful in determining the exact cause of a herniated disc or nerve impingement. In many cases, they help rule out other possible causes, however. As nerve impingements are typically associated with injuries or age-related changes in the vertebrae/joints/muscles, imaging tests can help diagnose whether one or more areas may need further investigation before surgery is considered. In some cases, special implants may be used during surgery to further assist physicians in making sure all injured structures are fully addressed.


In conclusion, it is important to note that there is a strong relationship between nerve impingement and back pain. While there are numerous treatments available to address both of these conditions, surgical intervention may be necessary in severe cases. It is therefore critical for healthcare providers to be aware of the etiology and treatment options available when addressing these conditions.

Additionally, educating patients on lifestyle changes that may help improve their symptoms, as well as post-operative care instructions for those who have undergone surgery should be included in the provider’s plan of care. By carefully evaluating each patient’s symptoms and gathering a thorough medical history, healthcare providers can better determine the best course of action for each individual patient.

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