I Was Told My MRI Shows A Pinched Nerve. What Does That Mean?

Dr. Steven C. Ludwig answers the question: 'Pinched Nerve In An MRI?'

BySteven C. Ludwig, M.D., Chief of Spine Surgery, University of Maryland Medical Center
November 12, 2008, 11:32 AM

— -- Question: I Was Told My MRI Shows A Pinched Nerve. What Does That Mean?

Answer: The MRI scan is an imaging test that allows physicians to assess a patient's spinal anatomy and investigate the cause of the patient's back pain and pain down the leg. The physician will correlate the findings on the MRI scan with the patient's symptoms in order to arrive at a clinical diagnosis. The doctors and other healthcare practitioners use many different terms to describe spinal disc problems and pain.

A pinched nerve means that the nerve is being compressed, and the compression is causing the pain radiate down the leg. A pinched nerve can be cause by a herniated or bulging disc.

Other causes of a pinched nerve can be arthritis, causing narrowing of the spinal canal, trauma, tumor or even an infection. When a person has a herniated disc that is causing pain, the bulge in the disc is pinching on a nerve in the spine. This produces pain that is called radicular pain, nerve root pain, or sciatica. Symptoms typically involve pain traveling down the leg in a very specific location.

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