You probably feel like you have a trapped nerve in your back right now. People reading this blog from around the world do so because they are struggling with a pinched nerve in their neck or they are experiencing terrible lower back and/or leg pain.
Today’s post is for those I thought people who are suffering with a pinched nerve pain in their backs and who are needing some quick help for the pain. Lower back pain is definitely a common health problem for many adults. In the post below I will briefly discuss the basic anatomy of the lumbar spine, common causes and symptoms of a trapped nerve in the low back region and ending it with some easy to do free low back pain exercises and other pain control tips.
Is This Sciatica?
Sciatica is a condition typically mentioned when talking about a low back pain episode or a pain down the back of your leg. The term sciatica is associated with lower back and leg pain, because, it is the main nerve from the spine that goes down the leg.
Sciatica is when you have pain running down the back of your leg in the same distribution area that the sciatic nerve supplies.
The sciatic nerve is made up of 5 spinal nerves coming together like a rope.
Sciatica is thought to be the cause of the trapped nerve, but it is not. Sciatica is only a symptom and not a diagnosis.
This is an important point to remember. This means if someone tells you that you have sciatica it is not the full story of what is causing your pain. You know the sciatic nerve is irritated, but you still don’t why.
To help understand this dilemma a bit more I think it is necessary that I help refresh your knowledge of the anatomy of the low back area.
Example Video of a Herniated L4-5 Disc
In this brief anatomy video you get to see what a herniated disc at the L4-5 spinal level looks like. L4-5 means that the disc between the 4th and 5th lumbar bones is pushing out causing a pinched nerve. This is a cause for lower back pain and/or sciatica pain.
I hope this video will help you understand the lumbar spine anatomy a bit better.
Example Video of Bones, Discs and Nerves in the Lumbar Spine
I did a video showing how a lumbar spine can develop degenerative disc disease over time and what it might look like.
The lower back region is made up of:
- 5 lumbar vertebrae bones,
- 5 lumbar discs,
- Various muscles, ligaments, nerves and more.
Any of these structures mentioned could be causing the pain in your lower back down your leg.
It is normally the case that only one of the branches of the sciatic nerve roots existing the spine which is pinched by a disc and not all five nerves in one go.
The sciatic nerve could also be irritated/inflamed by other anatomical structures other than a disc near it.
That is why I said sciatica is only a symptom and not a diagnosis. You still need to pin point what anatomical structure surrounding the sciatic nerve is making you feel sore down your leg.
Sorry that was an important point to understand, thank-you for sticking with me.
Two Common Causes of Low Back Pain and Leg Pain
Now lets look at two common causes of nerve pain in this region.
The two most common causes for nerve pain symptoms in the lower back and leg in patients that I have seen as a chiropractor in my practice are:
- Bulging Disc/Herniated Discs
When I see signs of an angry nerve in the lower back I always suspect an injured lumbar spinal disc. This is a condition causing what I call true trapped nerve pain. Because in this case one of the 5 nerves of the major sciatic nerve can be chemically or physically irritated/compressed causing the lower back and leg pain.
- Facet Syndrome
A facet is a spinal joint between each of lumbar vertebrae bones in your lower back spine. Facets too can get irritated enough to cause severe lower back pain, especially first thing in the morning. I find a facet pain happens commonly when people try tie a shoe lace in the morning and then cannot stand up straight. Remember though that facet joint pain should not cause leg pain below the knee. Pain below the knee is usually when you have a trapped nerve in the spine coming from a herniated disc.
My Trapped Nerve in Back Pain Relief Tips and Lower Back Exercises
Now we are at the point for help dealing with the pain you are in.
If after your chiropractor, or doctor, finishes examining you and confirms that you do have what I call a, true trapped nerve, in your lower back then they will first advise what they could do for you.
However, in the meantime, there are some lower back and sciatic exercises you can do yourself for pain relief.
The following self-help tips are things you can try do yourself whilst getting you get appropriate lower back pain treatment from a healthcare professional.
“RICE” stands for Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate. It is the first line anti-inflammatory treatment.
Ice using covered ice packs to bring nerve pain and swelling down.
Rest from too much movement, prolonged sitting or standing. Some walking will be good for you.
Compression can be from a velcro lumbar support belt or corset if needed.
Elevation forget about this as you cannot elevate your low back.
Try using one of these moldable ice packs on your back.
- Bum Squeezes
Using your bum (a.k.a gluteal) muscles to support your spine can help control any abnormal back movement that is causing the lower back and leg pain. Just simply squeeze your bum muscles together first before bending over or trying to get up from a chair or other seated position.
- Lumbar Support Chair Cushion
A lumbar chair support is important to use in your office, car and home sofa lounge seat when trying to heal a trapped nerve pain. Seats with built in back support will have a cushion pushing your lower back forward. You could also use a seat wedge to help re-create the natural lumbar spine arch (a.k.a lordosis). You can try doing this yourself by using a small pillow, cushion or rolled up towel to support your lower back when you’re sitting. Take a look at the best back support cushions page for my recommended products.
- Pain Relief Positions
There are some positions that may give you low back pain relief. This includes the 90/90 position you can see below. Lay on the floor, place a pillow under your head, maybe use the lumbar support cushion mentioned above under your lower back with your hips and knees bent at 90° and calves resting on a stool or sofa. For relief when sitting at the office all day check out my post on piriformis syndrome. For restful sleep you can also try placing a pillow between your knees when laying on your side in bed & trying to find pelvic neutral.
- Review The Medications Specific for Nerve Pain
Maybe you are trying GP prescribed or some over the counter pain medication (a.k.a analgesics). If you are finding the pills aren’t taking the pain away then you need to review your painkiller drugs. Trapped nerve pain is classed as neuropathic pain source. There are many types and dosages of medication specific for nerve pain. Some drugs work better for different people. I would recommend you have a chat with your GP to see if you are on the best anti-inflammatory or pain medication for you.
- Natural Painkiller Rub
An option for a painkiller that doesn’t need to be prescribed by a doctor is a natural rub on gel. My suggestion would be to use something I have used on myself from the BioFreeze gel range.
These types of gels contain natural painkilling substances that are easy to rub on by yourself or for others like family members, rub it on when you need it without worry of overdose, and they typically act fast to help soothe a sore area.
- McKenzie Back Pain Exercises
Robin Mckenzie is a New Zealand Physiotherapist who developed the McKenzie method for dealing with back pain. The prescribed movements are so simple you could do them anywhere. These are my go to herniated and bulging disc exercises to control pain. Order his “Treat Your Own Back” book here. In the meantime check out this video for an example of how to perform a lumbar extension exercise for someone with lumbar disc problem causing sciatica pain down the leg.
- Skin Rolling
Another simple cause of low back pain could be something called Thoracolumbar Junction Syndrome. If these posterior rami nerves are being trapped then the skin rolling technique is used both to test for sensitivity and it could help decrease some of the pain.
The Bottom Line
Of course the self-help list above is not exhaustive, but should hopefully give you some ideas as to what you can try do to help a trapped nerve in your lower back pain and may some sciatica leg pain.