“Pinched nerve” is actually a lay or common term and is not considered an accurate or scientific term for describing what happens. Nerves are rarely affected by a direct pinching process, but are more often compressed, irritated, tensioned, stretched, or experience interference. Nerves can be compressed or impinged by bone, tumors, disc bulges, or fibrotic (scar) tissue to name a few. Pressure on a nerve can result in malfunction of that nerve. This is why chiropractors like to more accurately use the terms “interference” or “irritation.” A subluxation in the spine leads to abnormal motion of that joint. This motion can interfere with what are called spinal reflexes. Spinal reflexes are a way for the body to relay messages from the body to the spinal cord and vice versa. A fixed or stuck vertebra can cause these impulses to become scrambled.
Nerve interference whether from compression, or irritation, may or may not be painful. Only 8% of the billions of nerve fibers in our body are the sensory type which perceive pain (called nociceptors). We also have motor nerves controlling our movement and muscles; autonomic nerves which control organs and visceral functions such as heart beat and immune system; and other types of sensory nerves which perceive touch (see also numbness), temperature, vibration and regulate balance. A disturbance in nerve function can lead to severe pain if it so happens that a nociceptor is the nerve that is irritated. Sciatica is a term used to describe pain in the sciatic nerve due to “pinching” in the lower back. Interference in other types of nerves can lead other types of problems.
Chiropractic and Pinched Nerves
Those diagnosed with “pinched nerves” should see a chiropractor. We are expects at analyzing the spinal column for subluxation and, through specific adjusting, removing nerve irritation. Medication and epidural steroid injections have been shown to only have temporary relief of symptoms while not removing the “pinching” if a nerve. In a British study of 741 sciatica patients, those receiving spinal adjustments got better than those receiving medical treatment.
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Nerve Root Compression can occur without Pain. Hause M: Pain and the Nerve Root. Spine 1993; 18(14):2053.
Carette S, et al., Epidural Corticosteroid Injections for sciatica due to herniated nucleus pulpoisis. N Engl J Med 1997;336:1634-40.