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Pain Management

Common Back Injuries

Sciatica

In the low back, nerves join to form the sciatic nerve, which runs down into the leg and controls the leg muscles. Sciatica is a condition that may cause radiating pain, numbness, tingling, and/or muscle weakness in the leg but originates from nerve root impingement in the lower back.

Nerve impingement is most often caused by spinal stenosis or a herniated disc:

Other Back Injuries

Degenerative disc disease

Degenerative disc disease is a general term applied to back pain that has lasted for more than three months. It is caused by degenerative changes in the intervertebral discs in the spine and can occur anywhere in the spine: low back (lumbar), mid-back (thoracic), or neck (cervical).

Under the age of 30, these discs are normally soft, and they act as cushions for the vertebrae. With age, the material in these lumbar discs becomes less flexible and the disks begin to erode, losing some of their height. As their thickness decreases, their ability to act as a cushion lessens. The less dense cushion now alters the position of the vertebrae and the ligaments that connect them. In some cases, the loss of density can even cause the vertebra to shift their positions. As the vertebrae shift and affect the other bones, the nerves can get caught or pinched and muscle spasms can occur.

Degenerative disc disease is primarily a result of the normal aging process, but it may also occur as a result of trauma, infection, or direct injury to the disk. Heredity and physical fitness may also play a part in the process.

Radiculopathy/nerve impingement

Radiculopathy refers to a condition in which the spinal nerve roots are irritated or compressed. Many people refer to it as having a "pinched nerve." Lumbar nerve impingement indicates that the nerve roots in the lower spine are involved, while cervical radiculopathy is associated with nerve roots in the neck. Nerve impingement is most often caused by a herniated disk or spinal stenosis.

This information was taken from the University Pointe Pain Management Center and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2007.

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Last Reviewed: Feb 11, 2009

Hammam  Akbik, MD, FIPP Hammam Akbik, MD, FIPP
Formerly, Assistant Professor of Anesthesia
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati