Most cases of pinched nerves in the back are a result of a herniated disk, a condition where the cartilage between the vertebrae protrudes out into the spinal canal. The cervical, thoracic and lumbar regions of the spine are all vulnerable to this type of injury. And since so many nerves are located within the spine, a slip or rupture in any disk can pinch a nerve, triggering pain, numbness and weakness within the back, leg, shoulder, arm or neck. Regardless of the location, a number of treatment options can effectively nurse the area back to health.
When you first suffer a pinched nerve, apply a cold compress to the back. The cold lessens swelling of the herniation and often reduces the pain caused by the pinched nerve. Make sure to only apply for around 15 minutes at a time, as prolonged cold can further aggravate the injury.
Of all the treatment options for a pinched nerve, rest is by far the most recommended, even in more severe cases. By periodically resting the area, the herniation eventually diminishes in size and lessens the compression of the pinched nerve.
As you rest the back, it is also important to make adjustment to your movements. This doesn't mean you should stop physical activities entirely, as you'll want to maintain strength and flexibility. Just try to pay attention to how you carry, reach and bend so as not to exacerbate the herniation and further pinch the affected nerve. Over time, the disk increasingly dwindles in size, allowing for more and more comfort as you move throughout the day.
While you treat the herniation, apply some heat. Unlike cold, heat brings blood back to the area of injury, which could increase inflammation, so use heat as a later form of treatment--no sooner than 48 hours after the injury. Applying heat to the affected area can limber the back and lessen pain. And much like cold, only apply it in increments of 15 minutes, as this too can further aggravate the injury.
Even if you may think your pinched nerve isn't a serious condition, consult a medical professional. Physicians have a number of treatment options available and are able to recommend the best approach. Physical therapists can recommend a series of exercises to rehabilitate and strengthen the area.
Though over-the-counter medications, like ibuprofen, aspirin and acetaminophen, can alleviate pain, sometimes more aggressive methods are necessary. Muscle relaxants are a common type of medication used to treat the herniation and remove some of the compression placed on the pinched nerve. Narcotics and other prescription pain relievers are also used to treat more significant pain, though the chances of dependency are greater, so these medications are often restricted.
In much more severe cases, surgery may be needed to reduce the herniation and remove the compression placed on the pinched nerve. In this situation, the protruded portion of the disk is manually removed by the surgeon, thereby treating the pinched nerve.