Any pressure placed on the spinal nerves as they branch off the spinal cord can cause nerve compression. This often results in pain or numbness radiating into the arms or legs and is sometimes referred to as radicular pain and in the low back/leg or “sciatica.” Nerve compression can occur at any level of the spine.
This pressure can result from disc protrusions or herniations, bone spurs, scar tissue, spinal instrumentation, tumors, infection, or cysts. Severe nerve compression may result in loss of bowel or bladder control or the weakness of an extremity. If these symptoms occur, you should see a doctor immediately. Sudden loss of bowel or bladder function may be a surgical emergency.
Nerve compression results in pain and other symptoms such as numbness, tingling, and weakness in the arms or legs. The quality and type of pain can vary, from dull, aching, and difficult to localize, to sharp and burning.
The doctor will review your symptoms and perform a physical examination. X-rays may be made and an MRI may be ordered if symptoms persist. Electromyography (EMG) may be performed to check if nerves are working as expected.
The first line of treatment for nerve compression is usually physical therapy, patient education, and possibly medication. If these do not provide relief, epidural steroid injections are usually the next option. Surgery, such as discectomy or decompression, may be considered if severe pain persists.
During these procedures, the tissue pressing on the nerves is removed. It is important to discuss treatment options for nerve compression with your doctor in deciding which treatment may be best for you.