Numbness And Muscle Weakness
Numbness and/or muscle weakness associated with back pain or neck pain may be a sign of significant spinal nerve compromise.
If you are experiencing back pain or neck pain that is now accompanied by numbness and/or muscle weakness, this may be a sign that you have developed some form of neuropathy, or abnormal nerve functioning due to damage or disease.
A common cause of neuropathy is nerve compression, or the "pinching" of a nerve where it exits the spinal column. This may be caused by a number of spinal disorders, such as a herniated disc or other conditions related to degenerative disc disease, including spinal stenosis and bone spurs.
When spinal nerves are compressed, the flow of nutrients to the spinal nerve membrane slows down. If the blockage continues, the nerve membrane eventually loses its ability to transmit the tiny electrical impulses that create sensation, and the nerve fiber may eventually die. When enough nerves stop functioning, this collective loss of sensation manifests as numbness in the area the affected nerves serve. Muscles supplied by the nerves also may cease to function normally.
What causes nerve compression?
The spine is a well-designed structure made up of bones (vertebrae), discs, muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves. The intervertebral discs are very important, serving as "cushions" for the vertebrae and facilitating normal spinal function and mobility.
Each disc is made up of two parts:
- The nucleus pulposus—the soft, gel-like center of the disc.
- The annulus fibrosis—strong, fibrous outer ring that surrounds and supports the nucleus pulposus.
Over time, intervertebral discs can become dried out, compressed or otherwise damaged, due to age, genetics and everyday wear-and-tear. When this happens, all or part of the nucleus pulposus may push through the annulus fibrosis, a condition typically called a herniated disc. Disc degeneration also may result in bone spurs, also called osteophytes, or spinal stenosis, the narrowing of the area of the spine where the nerve leaves the spine and travels to the rest of the body.
If disc or bone material pushes into or impinges on a nearby nerve root and/or the spinal cord, it may result in pain, numbness, weakness, muscle spasms and loss of coordination, both at the site of the damage and elsewhere in the body. The medical term for symptoms that radiate into the extremities is radiculopathy, derived from the Latin words "radix," or roots, and "pathos," the ancient Greek term for disease or suffering.
These symptoms and the conditions that cause them are collectively referred to as degenerative disc disease, if the condition has become chronic over time. Similar symptoms may develop quickly, however, if an intervertebral disc herniates suddenly, causing acute nerve compression.
If you are experiencing numbness and/or muscle weakness associated with back pain or neck pain, please make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible to identify the source of your symptoms and to discuss appropriate treatment options. The longer nerve function is compromised, the greater the potential for permanent nerve damage and delayed symptom relief.
Contact your physician immediately if you:
- Are experiencing pain, numbness and/or muscle weakness as a result of a physical trauma involving your spine, such as a fall or car accident
- Are having difficulty moving your extremities
- Experiencing bladder control loss or impairment
- Have developed a fever or severe headache
- Are over 60 and have been taking steroids for a long period of time
- Are experiencing chest pain or pain in the left arm
- Are pregnant
- In instances of acute back pain, do not experience any improvement after 72 hours of self-treatment at home
- Have experienced chronic back pain for more than 6 weeks
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