There are two main functions of the nerves – sensory (detecting pain, touch, heat, cold etc) and motor (movement, both voluntary and involuntary). Nerve damage in the context of back injury is generally a secondary complication of spinal injuries, that is, they tend to occur because of a spinal injury. Vertebrae or disc that have been damaged/injured can compress (squash), impinge on (encroach on the space for a nerve, or pinch it), irritate (physically rub against) or partially or completely sever (cut in half) a nerve. The subsequent symptoms will vary depending on the function of the damaged/destroyed nerve and the degree of injury. The nerves exiting the spinal column are single long cells. Some examples of the symptoms a person may experience from a serious back injury with disc/vertebrae movement or damage and subsequent nerve injury include:
Numbness, tingling (pins and needles) or burning in the limbs and extremities the nerve runs to
Can be dull or sharp, mild or very severe localised or radiating out into the limbs the nerve serves. Can also be chronic, or in response to certain movements
Caused by irritation of nerves serving the abdominal organs
Can occur if the motor nerves that serve the stomach are injured
Can also be due to muscle strains, or a combination of both muscle injury and irritation of nerves exiting through the cervical vertebrae.
Paralysis, Partially or Complete Loss of Normal Function
Occurs if nerves are partially or completely severed, or if nerves are pinched. Affected nerves are those that send motor signals, rather than sensory signals. Weakness may also occur in affected limbs.
Some specific nerve injuries of the back and spinal cord include:
Also known as impingement, this is a condition where a nerve is compressed between two adjacent structures. In the back, pinched nerves are generally the result of bulging or herniated discs. The symptoms depend on which nerve root is affected, but generally involves considerable pain.
Also known as a stuck nerve. A condition where a nerve becomes stuck to surround soft tissues, such as muscle or connective tissue. Repeated injuries cause the formation of scar tissue and may also damage the protective sheath around the nerve, leading to the formation of adhesions and nerves become trapped. This can occur within the back, close to the spine, or at other locations in the periphery (away from the spinal cord) where nerves travel through soft tissues.
A condition where a lower back injury causing pinching of the sciatic nerve. The result is often excruciating pain radiating from the lower back, through the buttocks and into the leg. Commonly the result of herniated discs in the lower spine.