Pinched Nerve of the Back

By Gregory C. Keller, MD

Pinched Nerve of the Back

Pinched nerve of the back refers to a situation where one of the spinal nerves is compressed as they exit the spinal canal.  This typically presents as sciatica or pain radiating down the buttock, posterior thigh, and as far as the calf or even the foot.  This can be accompanied by loss of sensation or numbness.  As well as weakness in the extremity.  The pain is described as a sharp, shooting, or radiating pain. This pain can occasionally be severe or almost intolerable.

The usual source of the “pinching” of the nerve is either a disc herniation or prolapse versus a more gradual onset due to spinal stenosis.  Other causes include cyst formation or, rarely, cancer.  A common misunderstanding is that back pain itself is due to a pinched nerve.  Specifically, a pinched nerve would have to hurt or cause pain in the distribution of the nerve which is generally in the lower extremity as opposed to the back itself.  Although, the conditions listed above can also cause back pain.

The treatment for this is first to find the source of the sciatica.  Once the cause is discovered and treatment can be directed at that.  This can consist of medication, physical therapy, injections of steroid (epidural steroid injection), or surgery.  Obviously, only surgery can directly decompress the nerve root.  The other treatments are meant to obtain symptom relief long enough to allow the body to heal itself which it oftentimes does.  In fact, over 90% of sciatic episodes will resolve without specific treatment and certainly without surgery.

You think you have a pinched nerve or sciatic pain?  Please see your primary care physician or a spinal specialist for an evaluation and appropriate diagnostic studies.  If you would like to learn more about pinched nerves, go to:


call to action

Skip to content