Chronic Back Pain: Is it a pinched nerve?

spine and nerve images

Not everything that feels like a “pinch” is a pinched nerve. It can be useful to think of these peripheral nerves from your spine to be like wires transmitting electricity to a light bulb. If an electrical wire were cut or compressed, you would expect that the light bulb that it’s attached to wouldn’t shine as brightly or work at all. This concept is the same for “pinched nerves.”

When“pinched nerves” or radiculopathies occur, people complain of shooting pain down the leg or pain, or abnormal sensations below the knees and into the foot and ankle. By checking ankle strength, toe strength, reflexes, and nerve tension signs, doctors can determine whether you have a “pinched nerve” or not.

Pinched nerves actually occur very rarely compared to most causes of back pain.

foot nerves

Most “pinching” sensations that you can poke a finger on are actually coming from tender muscle or trigger points. When one of these painful muscle knots lines up exactly in the direction of the fibers that you need to use, a “pinching” sensation can be felt. People can describe this pain as being sharp, dull, aching, and sometimes even constant if the “core” muscles are continually activated and painful.

Any problem with a person’s muscle flexibility, strength, or endurance can cause pain receptors to signal the spinal cord. The best way to minimize this peripheral process is to maintain or improve your overall flexibility, strength, and endurance. The best way to do this is through a current and regular exercise program.

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Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation
University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics
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Iowa City, IA 52242
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