A trapped nerve in the spine has to be one of the most painful and debilitating things many of us are likely ever to encounter. While this is normally (thankfully) a self-limiting and acute problem, it’s also unfortunately one that can come about easily and prevent us from performing even the most simple task while we’re experiencing it. So what is a trapped nerve? How can you prevent it? And how can you treat it if you should happen to experience it? Let’s take a look.
What is a Trapped Nerve?
Nerves run all throughout our body and are responsible for sending and receiving signals. Think of them as an information network that connects our brain to our muscles and our tissue. One particularly large nerve runs all the way down our spine and is called the ‘sciatic nerve’. This nerve is highly integral to everything we do because it is what connects all our libs to our central nervous system.
When these nerves fire this is sent back as a signal to us that indicates a sensation, and sometimes this sensation is pain. As such then, if they should get trapped that can be very painful and uncomfortable.
Unfortunately the sciatic nerve can get trapped quite easily however as it is so close to our spinal column which is constantly moving. If you should bend or twist incorrectly then, this can allow your sciatic nerve to become wedged in your spine, or between your bone and muscle, and this can then cause severe pain that’s even worse when you try to bend over or move around.
How to Treat It
If this should happen then there are a number of ways you can treat the problem. One is to try using stretches and exercises to open up the spinal column and so release the trapped nerve. There are many exercises and stretches that a physiotherapist can show us, and there are also some that we can do ourselves or at home. If you have ever done Pilates, then many of those movements involving rolling the spine can help a lot.
Another option is to try and use massage. By exciting the nerve massage for the lower spine can often help to lessen pain in the short term, but more importantly, if the massage therapist is an expert who knows what they’re doing then they may be able to help you work the trapped nerve lose again and thus permanently alleviate the pain.
Another option is to use something called a ‘TENS’ machine which works by sending lots of small electrical impulses into your lower back via a moist pad. This can help by exciting the surrounding nerves which acts as ‘interference’ or ‘white noise’ and prevents the pain signal from getting through as clearly and can temporary alleviate the symptoms. Analgesics are also useful.
Better of course is to generally avoid anything that could cause a trapped nerve. This means making sure to avoid bending over to lift things (squat down and lift with your legs) and it means always warming up before you exert yourself. It’s also important to avoid too much strenuous exercise straight after sleeping when the spine will still be relatively tender and supple.