Symptoms and Causes of a Pinched Nerve in Your Lower Back

A pinched nerve in your lower back can be caused by a herniated disc or twisted vertebrae. Mild to severe chronic low back pain are possible symptoms.

Pain is your body's way of telling you that something is wrong. The stronger the pain signal the more severe the problem.

A pinched nerve is one of the many possible causes of lower back pain. If the pain has lasted more than 3 months it is considered chronic lower back pain. If the pain has lasted 3-4 weeks or less it is considered acute pain.

Many of the lower back pain symptoms will be similar to that experienced with spinal stenosis and will include pain, burning, tingling and numbness in the lower back, buttocks and legs as low as the toes.

You have both sensory and motor nerves in your body. A pinched nerve in your lower back can cause one or both of these nerves to malfunction.

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The sensory nerves transmit information from your extremities to your brain. An example would be hitting your shin on a table and that pain signal being sent to the brain. Another example that may not be as obvious would be your bladder talking to your brain about when it is time to urinate. When that miscommunication happens it typically leads to too frequent urination.

Motor nerves transmit information from your brain to your extremities. Your brain telling your calf muscles to contract so that you can rise up on your toes would be an example of this. A less obvious example would be your brain telling your blood vessels to open up or contract within your legs.

The brain may sense a need for additional blood supply in the legs but if that message cannot make it to the blood vessels this will lead to poor circulation. A whole host of problems will result from this since blood supply is critical to the proper functioning of everything in our bodies.


A pinched nerve in your lower back is also commonly called radiculopathy. This means that the symptoms are typically referred to areas other than just your lower back.

The typical symptoms of a pinched nerve in lower back include the following.

  • Low back muscle pain, stiffness and muscle spasms in lower back and legs
  • Burning sensation in lower back and legs
  • Tight muscles in lower back and legs
  • Muscle weakness in lower back and legs

Cause - Herniated Disc

Nerve entrapment is different from a pinched nerve in your lower back. Nerves wind in and between muscles and muscle fibers. When the muscles tense up they can impinge a nerve causing nerve entrapment.

A pinched nerve typically happens close to the spinal column and occurs when a vertebral bone or disc presses on the nerve.

One cause of pinched nerves in the low back are a bulging disc and herniated disc. 90% of all herniated discs occur in the lower back for a good reason.

We can measure the pressure on the discs in our back in mm of mercury designated as mmHg. When we are laying down we are exerting 75 mmHg on the low back discs. So there is never a time when we have zero pressure on our back. When we stand that increases to 100 mmHg and sitting raises it to 200 mmHg.

When we lift with proper body mechanics keeping our back relatively straight the pressure climbs to 300 mmHg. When we lift incorrectly by bending over the pressure reaches an incredible 800 mmHg.

This is 8 times the amount of pressure when standing and this is without any significant weight in our hands.

We do a lot of twisting and bending with our backs. Every time we exceed the limits we tear some of the Fibres of Sharpey that connect our discs to the vertebrae above and below it. After repeated abuses enough of the Fibres are torn that the disc then begins to bulge and eventually herniates.

This allows the nucleus pulposus to protrude out of the disc. When the nucleus breaches the annular wall chemicals are secreted that aggravate the nerve or spinal cord. In addition the nucleus will press on the nerve root or spinal cord aggravating it further. The picture below illustrates this.

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A bulging disc is then the first stage of the weakening annular wall and a herniated disc is the next stage. Pain symptoms are only felt for about half of the people diagnosed with bulging discs but severe lower back pain is one of the symptoms of a herniated disc.

Cause - Subluxation or Twisted Vertebrae

Another cause of a pinched nerve in your lower back is a subluxation which is also commonly called a twisted vertebra. The nerve root that exits the hole or foramen between the vertebrae does not have the same amount of protective sheath that the nerve has once it starts to branch out throughout the body. This makes it very susceptible to pressure and ranks high as one of the chronic back pain causes. A twisted vertebra can be the result of some kind of trauma. Falls and car accidents are 2 of the more common traumas that occur in our lives. The trauma will hyper extend the complex web of ligaments supporting our spine.

If you have over-stretched a rubber band and seen how it doesn't quite retract to its original length you have some idea of what happens to a hyper extended ligament. In the picture below you can see how complex the ligament structure is surrounding your spine.

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Until the weakened strained ligament fully heals it is not able to provide the equal opposing force needed to keep the vertebrae properly aligned. The twisted vertebra will then put pressure on the nerve.

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It does not take very much pressure to affect nerve function. In 1975 Dr. Seth Sharpless, PhD, a researcher at the University of Colorado, discovered that the mere weight of a dime resting on a nerve root will reduce the amount of electrical transmission by almost 60%.

People seldom see significant relief from herniated discs but symptoms from a twisted vertebrae are many times more intermittent. The temporary lack of pain or numbness can lead them to think that the problem has been cured.

In reality they do have a chronic lower back pain issue that is not currently manifesting symptoms. When the symptoms do come back though they are many times more severe and last for a longer period of time.

If this sounds like your situation you are encouraged to get an accurate diagnosis from your physician. The earlier symptoms for a pinched nerve in your lower back are diagnosed the more likely that conservative treatments from a chiropractic back pain specialist or spinal decompression will be effective.

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