What is a Pinched Nerve?

The term “pinched nerve” is a non-medical term used to describe a nerve that has been compressed or irritated, usually due to spinal stenosis, foraminal stenosis, or a herniated disc . The term can be slightly misleading as the nerve does not need to be “pinched” or compressed for pain symptoms or dysfunction to occur.


An Overview of the Spine

The spine, or vertebral column, is made up of 33 vertebrae (individual bone segments) that are stacked one on top of the other and spaced apart by small, shock-absorbing, sponge-like structures called intervertebral discs. The purpose of the spine is to protect the spinal cord and support us in standing, sitting, walking, and all other activities of daily life. The jelly-like inner layer of the intervertebral disc, called the nucleus pulposus, has no direct blood supply and needs alternating compressing (think: sitting) and decompressing (think: physical activity such as walking) forces to receive nutrients from the body and stay healthy. The spinal cord runs the length of the spine down to the upper portion of the low back and is encased within the hollow sections of these vertebrae. Spinal nerves branch off of the spinal cord at each level and exit the spinal column through holes between each pair of vertebrae called “foramen.” It is in these two areas—the hollow part of the vertebrae where the spinal cord runs down our backs and the holes between the vertebrae where the spinal nerves exit the vertebral column—that the nerves can be compressed, irritated or “pinched”.

What Causes Pinched Nerve Pain?

Pain is felt in the areas to which the affected nerves supply sensation and function. In the case of a pinched nerve in the neck, the pain is typically felt in the arms or hands. Conversely, a pinched nerve in the low back often results in pain in the legs and feet. When the compression is severe, there can be a loss of sensation or tingling in the associated skin area or a loss of function in the associated muscles.

diagram showing pinched nerve and herniated disc
diagram showing compressed nerve and foraminal narrowing

Treatment for a Pinched Nerve

To successfully relieve the pain from a pinched nerve, you first need an accurate diagnosis from a medical professional – your doctor should determine the root cause of the pinched nerve. And here’s the good news: pain from a pinched nerve is typically treated without drugs or surgery. Most people can fix their pain at home. Information about how to treat a pinched nerve resulting from a disc herniation can be found here and from stenosis here. Do not ignore severe compression that causes a loss of sensation or function—in these instances surgery may be required to alleviate the nerve compression.

Dr. Jeremy James

Written by Dr. Jeremy James. Dr. James founded and was director of the Aspen Club Back Institute in Aspen, Colorado, is the coauthor of the bestselling The Younger Next Year Back Book and earned his Doctor of Chiropractic from the University of Western States. Learn more about Dr. James here.

How BACKFOREVER Stops Pain Associated with a Pinched Nerve

As with any program involving physical activity, consult your physician prior to starting

BACKFOREVER can help if you have pain from a pinched nerve. Building strength in key muscle groups that support the spine and changing the way you move can stop the irritation to the nerve, resulting in significantly decreased or completely resolved pain. Researchers agree that in most cases this type of behavioral approach is the most effective and least risky.

BACKFOREVER uses a proprietary comprehensive self-assessment to produce online digital programs unique to each user’s specific condition and beginning fitness level. Your BACKFOREVER program is tailored to you and teaches you how to rebuild your body, end back pain, and change your life.

End the Pain – Start Today

I have had serious neck stenosis issues for years and to put it simply: Jeremy James’s BACKFOREVER protocol has fixed me. A combination of neck and back strengthening exercises, patiently rolled out over time, has made the difference.

-Bob Hurst, NY, former Vice Chairman, Goldman Sachs