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How do I Recognize Back Pain from a Pinched Nerve?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 December 2016
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Back pain from a pinched nerve may sometimes feel like normal back pain caused by muscle strains or poor posture, but more often, it will be a sharp pain that can radiate throughout the back or even down the legs, depending on which nerve is pinched. In more severe cases, the pinched nerve can cause weakness or numbness in the back and legs. Other types of back pain that result from a muscular issue generally will not cause such symptoms, and pain from a pinched nerve can be indicative of a much more serious problem.

Sciatica is one of the most common causes of back pain from a pinched nerve. The sciatic nerve starts in the lower back, and it runs through the buttocks and all the way down the back of each leg. If the muscles of the back or hips tighten, they might compress the sciatic nerve endings, causing a shooting, sharp pain down the back of the leg, in the hips, in the buttocks, or in the lower back. Such pain can be accompanied by numbness, tightness, or a throbbing ache, and the muscles in the back and legs may also become weak. Regular stretching and exercise is usually enough to counteract the symptoms of sciatica, though in more severe cases, surgery may be necessary.

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Back pain from a pinched nerve can occur in other parts of the back as well, and these nerves will affect parts of the body serviced by that particular nerve. A pinched nerve may be accompanied by a stiff neck, numbness in the arms, or a shooting pain throughout the entire back. Such pain is often caused by a herniated disc in the spine. This occurs when the gel-like fluid between vertebrae ruptures and presses against the nerves that run through each vertebrae. Such injuries often heal on their own with stretching and regular exercise, but in some more severe cases, surgery may be necessary as a last resort. Anti-inflammatory medications may also alleviate the pain and allow the injury to heal.

Other causes of a pinched nerve in the back include direct trauma, spinal compression, sitting or standing for long periods of time, and overuse of muscles during physical activity. Pain from pinched nerves caused by these activities can usually be remedied with stretching, exercise, and medication.

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