Back pain can have many causes and understanding the true cause can be difficult. Whenever back pain is caused by a herniated disc pressing on a nerve or possibly it’s just the disc itself, it is hard to truly understand what this means because of the plethora of terms used to describe the cause of the pain – pinched nerve, protruding disc, slipped disc, and so on.
This article will explain the difference between back pain caused by pinched nerve pain and degenerated disc, as well as how they are related.
Pinched Nerve Pain
Radiculopathy, more commonly known as a pinched nerve, is caused by a spinal disc compressing a nerve near the disc. While it may feel like it is the spinal disc that hurts, the pain is coming from the inflamed nerve. Because the pain travels the length of the irritated nerve, pain may be experienced from the lower back down to the leg and even the foot. Other nerve-related pain may also be experienced, such as weakness, tingling, or a sharp or burning pain. While radiculopathy can happen anywhere along the spine, it occurs most commonly in the neck (cervical) and lower back (lumbar).
Pinched nerves have several possible root causes, some more common than others. A primary cause is herniated discs. This is when the disc is still in its proper place, but a small part of it has pushed out of place. Next is spinal stenosis, or spinal narrowing, where the canal that houses the spinal nerves begins to narrow and pinch nerve roots. A less common cause of pain is bone spurs. While these are better known when they occur in the feet, bone spurs can also occur around the spine. While the spurs themselves are not painful, they can put pressure on parts of the spine, including nerves, that lead to pinched nerve pain.
Degenerated Disc Pain
Degenerated discs may be caused by trauma, such as a car accident, or simply occur as part of the aging process (degenerative disc disease). While it may seem as though the discs themselves are causing pain, it is their interference with other parts of the spine which leads to back pain.
There are several channels through which back pain may be experienced as a result of a degenerated disc. As a disc degenerates, it may release proteins outside of the disc structure. As these proteins interact with nerves near the disc, it can lead to inflammation followed by pain. As the disc degenerates, it is losing fluids resulting in shrinkage (spinal narrowing). As mentioned above, this shrinkage or narrowing leads to pinched nerves. Finally, there is segmental instability. When a disc degenerates, it loses its ability to effectively work with the adjoining discs to support the body’s weight. As a result, the two discs have a greater range of motion between them than normal.
To address these different issues and relieve the back pain, one may try to compensate by overusing other muscles. However, this can cause the back pain to worsen, or even travel to the leg and foot.
What is The Cause of The Pain?
When back pain is chronic, it is difficult not to focus on the pain and ways to relieve it. However, try to shift your focus from the pain to the root cause of the pain. Experienced pain management physicians and therapists, such as those at Genesis Medical Center, will use any information you can provide about your condition along with diagnostic tests which will determine the most effective treatment plan.
Picture Credit: freepik