I've been seeing many pinched nerves lately in my clinical practice. Radiculopathy, better known as a pinched nerve, is due to a dysfunction of the nerve, nerve root, or both at the spinal cord. When a nerve is compressed along the nerve pathway, it becomes inflamed and can cause pain, weakness, and numbness down the arms or legs, depending on what nerve root it affects. Pinched nerves can be in the neck, mid-back, or lower back.
Causes of Radiculopathy
Radiculopathy is usually caused by changes in the tissues surrounding the nerve roots. These tissues typically can be bone from the spinal vertebrae, cartilage, muscles, tendons, and intervertebral discs. These tissues can shift or change in size from degeneration or spinal injury. With these changes to the tissues, the opening where the nerves enter and exit the spine can narrow, causing nerve impingement. Some causes of nerve compression can be due to:
Disc herniations at the spinal cord
Bone spurs - extra bone growth due to osteoarthritis, trauma, or other degenerative conditions.
Referral pain from trigger points in muscles
Thickening of spinal ligaments
Radiculopathy vs. peripheral neuropathy
Radiculopathy and peripheral neuropathy do have symptoms that overlap. Radiculopathy is damage to the nerve root at the spinal cord. Peripheral neuropathy is damage to the peripheral nerves from a nerve entrapment further from the spine. For example, carpal tunnel syndrome is a peripheral neuropathy because there is damage or entrapment of the nerves at the wrist. Peripheral neuropathy could also be a symptom of diabetes and a side effect of chemotherapy. Acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment modality to treat peripheral neuropathy and radiculopathy.
Acupuncture treatment for Pinched Nerves
Acupuncture is an effective treatment for pinched nerves if the cause comes from tight and weakened muscles entrapping the nerve pathway. Motor point acupuncture can activate weakened muscles from inflammation and loosen tight muscles from the body's compensatory mechanisms. Motor point acupuncture also helps bring blood and oxygen to ischemic muscles that are not nourished due to injury.
Trigger point acupuncture can deactivate muscle knots that mimic cervical or lumbar radiculopathy (or pain going down the arms or legs, respectively). Releasing these muscle knots can also free up the range of motion in the joint. Suppose you are not getting any relief from your pain management injections, chiropractor, or physical therapist. In that case, there are trigger points in the muscles that most likely are inhibiting your body's healing process. Other modalities like cupping and gua sha can bring blood flow to the area to reduce inflammation and activate the body's natural healing response.
Want to see if acupuncture can reduce the symptoms of your pinched nerve?
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