Ask the Healthy RN

Pinched Nerves.

I suffer from pinched nerves in my back – the same areas keep getting aggravated from time to time.  There seems to be no reason why or when it happens. I could be simply turning my neck and pop!  First – why does a pinched nerve feel like someone has implanted a tennis ball in my back and; Is there anything I can do to prevent pinched nerves?

Eric S.

First, I would check and make sure that no one has indeed implanted a tennis ball in your back. The internet claims these athletic implantations are on the rise. I read about this one guy in a tub of ice… oh well. Never mind. Assuming you do NOT have an actual tennis ball in your back, your complaints are not unusual. Your spine has a really effective cushion system that allows it to bend in many different directions. However, over time and with impacting damage, this cushioning can degrade and the nerves inside the spinal column can become impinged or pinched, as you say. I hear lots of people say, “Yep. I should have never reached down like that and got that spoon off the floor. If I had left it there, I wouldn’t have needed surgery.” Uh. Wrong. Improper lifting techniques, coupled with age and the “rodeo” of daily life (remember when you fell on the ice last winter and figured you did pretty well?) mean that sooner or later, something is going to give. Out.


So, the nerves are pinched and inflamed and what do nerves attach to? Muscles! Now the MUSCLES are inflamed and what is the only action a muscle can perform when excited? Contraction, of course!  And, since there is no feedback loop to turn this spasm off, the muscle just keeps firing and the nerves keep inflaming and soon your back is like a “burning ring of fire” to quote one of my favorites. That hopefully answers the “why” part of your question but as to the PREVENTION of pinched nerves? Boy, have I got a column for you! (smile emoji here)


First, are you carrying excess abdominal girth?  As an aside, isn’t girth a great word? It’s like a cross between the fun we have at Christmas (mirth) and Garth Brooks! Win Win! Girth! Aaaaaanyway, dropping just 7-10 percent of your body weight can have exponential benefits to the load on your back. Also, perhaps seeing a chiropractor is in order. Recently I had a doctor of chiropractic medicine ask me if I ever get my tires aligned. Although I said, “yes” – I knew it had been too long. Same for your back! Getting it aligned regularly may be JUST what you need. Also, I love the WATER! Aqua aerobics or swimming or just floating can help relieve potential hot spots in your back by employing the “buoyancy effect” – essentially being much lighter than on land can help those cushions in your back regain their “cushioncy”. Not a word. But you get me. Finally, routine deep cooling can be helpful in preventing nerves or muscles that are at a low threshold for inflaming and subsequent spasm. I have clients that use ice on their backs daily to relieve pain and just look at pro athletes. They sit in buckets of ice after a game! Yikes! Some people swear by inversion tables and some people love massage, I say, if it works for you, stick with it.


But in the mean time, don’t trust anyone threatening to implant a tennis ball in your back. Unless you’re playing tennis with Serena Williams because you’re trying to lose that girth.


by Joey Traywick, RN


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