Spine Surgery 101: What Decompressing a Spinal Nerve Means



What Decompressing a Spinal Nerve Means


A pinched spinal nerve can cause pain, numbness, and/or weakness. In most cases, conservative treatment options like physical therapy, anti-inflammatories and injections can be enough to decrease symptoms and help patients live a normal life. However, in some cases, the nerve can be pinched to the degree that surgical intervention in the form of a nerve decompression is necessary.

Understanding Spine Anatomy


The spine is made up of vertebrae that perfectly align to form the spinal canal—a narrow tunnel that the spinal cord runs through. Vertebral bone abnormalities can pinch the spinal cord and/or spinal nerves that branch out to the muscles and organs of the body. When this occurs, the nerve is said to be "pinched".

What Decompressing a Spinal Nerve Means
A bone spur pinching the nerve


Causes of a Pinched Nerve


The two most common causes of a pinched nerve are:
  1. Degenerative disc disease. Wear and tear due to age and/or injury can cause vertebrae to change shape. When bone on bone rubbing occurs, osteoarthritis sets in and causes bone spurs, which pinch nerves.
  2. A Herniated Disc. The intervertebral discs of the spine lie between adjacent vertebrae. The act as “shock absorbers” that decrease the stress placed on vertebrae during walking, running, and other movements. A worn or injured disc is prone to "slip" or herniate. A herniated disc can protrude into the spinal canal and pinch the cord.
What Decompressing a Spinal Nerve Means
A herniated disc pinching the nerve


As previously mentioned, symptom-producing pinched nerves that won't respond to conservative treatment need to be decompressed surgically.

Decompressing a Nerve


The purpose of a nerve decompression is to remove what is pinching the nerve. The two most common decompression procedures are:
  1. The removal of nerve compressing bone and/or soft tissue.
  2. The removal of a herniated disc.
Both procedures can be performed as a minimally invasive procedure. The choice is always up to the Neurosurgeon treating the patient and the patient themselves.

Seeking Treatment for a Pinched Spinal Nerve


If you're experiencing back pain, weakness, and/or numbness that won't go away, please don't hesitate to contact our office to arrange an appointment with a Neurosurgeon. Once your condition has been evaluated and diagnosed, a treatment plan will be made. If a nerve decompression is recommended, you'll be given all the information you need to make a decision that's right for you. Remember, the road to recovery starts when you walk through our doors.




Dr. Anthony Virella is a Board-Certified, Fellowship trained Neurological Spine Surgeon with advanced training in the management of complex spinal disorders. He attended medical school at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and is a graduate of the UCLA Neurosurgery Residency Program. Dr. Virella is a nationally recognized specialist in the field of complex and Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery and has offices located in Agoura Hills, Valencia and Palmdale. If you, or someone you love, is suffering from persistent neck or back pain, contact us today to schedule an appointment.

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