Expecting a Spinal Pinched Nerve Diagnosis? You May Be Surprised
If you go to the doctor with back or neck pain and expect to receive a spinal pinched nerve diagnosis, you may be surprised if you actually find out you're suffering from a strained muscle, sprained ligament, or another condition. This is because the symptoms of a pinched spinal nerve can often mimic the symptoms of other physical problems - in addition to a muscle strain and ligament sprain, there's fibromyalgia, arthritis, spondylitis, osteomyelitis, or shingles, just to name a few. Sometimes the term "pinched nerve" is even used as a blanket label to apply to any form of back or neck pain, though you should know that the condition is actually much more specific. The condition of a spinal pinched nerve typically refers to an anatomical abnormality (such as a herniated disc or bone spur) in the spine that's pressing on a spinal nerve as it branches off the spinal cord and exits the spinal column.
Underlying Conditions that Could Lead to a Spinal Pinched Nerve Diagnosis
There are a variety of anatomical abnormalities that could protrude into the spinal canal or constrict the vertebral foramina (open passageways through which spinal nerves pass) and cause neural compression. The most common are those caused by spinal degeneration, including:
- Herniated disc - A weakened intervertebral disc may develop a tear in its outer wall. If inner disc fluid leaks out of this tear and extrudes into the spinal canal, a nerve may become compressed.
- Bulging disc - A degenerating disc can often develop a bulge of it can't fully sustain the weight and pressure of the vertebrae around it. A bulging disc is often the precursor to a herniated disc, but can still cause nerve compression even in its early stages.
- Bone spurs - Medically known as osteophytes, bone spurs are extra growths of bone that can form around any bone in the body, including the spinal facet joints or vertebral bodies. The body produces these in the spine in an attempt to strengthen an area of degeneration, but neural compression often results.
Being Careful Not to Diagnose Yourself
A pinched nerve usually produces symptoms like pain, tingling, numbness, and weakness that radiate through the back, neck, and/or extremities, depending on the location of neural compression. Even if you experience these exact symptoms, you still need to see a doctor for an accurate pinched nerve diagnosis. Trying to diagnose yourself is dangerous because it could lead to a misdiagnosis, improper treatment, dangerous drug interactions, or injury. When you go to the doctor for a diagnosis, your doctor will likely ask you a series of questions about your symptoms, your personal medical history, and your family history. A physical exam and a series of medical imaging tests, such as an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan, may follow.