Nerve root irritation is commonly referred to as a pinched nerve and is a common problem experienced, generally in mid to later years of life.
What Is It
The nerves that supply the back, hips and legs exit the spine between each vertebra, through a tunnel known as the exit foramen, made up by the 2 vertebra. Nerve root irritation can result from anything that acts to restrict the size of this tunnel, thus restricting the room the nerve root has to move. This can result from poor spinal alignment, effectively closing down the tunnel, to encroachment into the tunnel by the disc from the front or bony growths from the joint at the back.
Symptoms of Nerve Root Irritation
- Pain, pins and needles or burning radiating into the hips, buttock or down into the leg.
- Weakness of the muscles that are supplied by the nerve
- Protective muscle spasm in the neck around the irritated area.
- Pain with movement of the back, especially with leaning back and turning or leaning towards the painful side.
- Pain is often relieved in a forward bent position which opens up the exit foramen.
Accurate diagnosis by your physiotherapist as to the source of the irritation is vital. Treatment will usually involve tissue release, stretching and joint mobilisation techniques to decrease spasm and restore normal spinal alignment. This generally acts to open up the tunnel for the nerve allowing it more room to move. The nerve root has often become swollen and enlarged, now taking up more room in an already restricted tunnel. Anti- inflammatory medication normally plays an important role in this stage to decrease swelling and inflammation of the nerve. Nerve root mobilisation techniques may be necessary to free up nerve tissue that has become stuck.
In cases of severe degeneration and encroachment into the exit foramen by the disc or bony changes, surgery may be required to remove some of the offending tissue and increase the size of the tunnel in order to give the nerve adequate room to move.