Neurosurgery, Spine Surgery

January 20, 2016

How to Tell the Difference Between Herniated Discs, Pinched Nerves, and Bone Spurs


Diagnosing spine conditions can be more difficult when conditions like herniated discs, pinched nerves, and bone spurs share symptoms.

Herniated discs, pinched nerves, and bone spurs are all spine conditions that can cause chronic back pain. Oftentimes, these conditions have similar symptoms, making them difficult to diagnose without the help of a neurosurgeon. Prepare for a surgical consultation by considering the cause of your pain and the severity to help determine which spine condition you may have.

Herniated Discs
Your spine is made of discs, which are rubbery cushions, in between the vertebrae of your spine. These discs prevent the individual bones from rubbing together. When they become herniated, the softer interior of the disc pushes through a small crack or opening in the exterior.

A disc herniation is the result of gradual wear and tear that can occur naturally during the aging process or from a sudden injury. A common cause of disc herniation is using your back to lift without bending your knees to support your spine. As you get older, the fluid in your discs lessens, making them less flexible and more likely to tear or rupture.

Pinched Nerves
A pinched nerve occurs when there is too much pressure on a nerve in the tissue surrounding your spine. Pinched nerves can occur in your cartilage, muscles, bones, or tendons. For instance, it is possible to pinch a nerve in your lower spine.

Herniated discs can also cause pinched nerves in the lower portion of the spine when the inflammation applies pressure to the root of a nerve. Some common causes of a pinched nerve include sports and hobby-related injuries, obesity, poor posture, rheumatoid arthritis, or stress from repetitive work.

Bone Spurs
A bone spur, also referred to as an osteophyte, is a bony projection that evolves on the other edge of your bones. They most commonly develop in your joints, but it is possible for one to form on the bones of the spine. Usually, the cause of a bone spur is joint damage arising from osteoarthritis.

Diagnosing Spine Conditions
One similarity among all three of these conditions is that they are often asymptomatic until they progress to a serious stage. However, common symptoms for all three include numbness, tingling, or a “pins and needles” sensation along your back, shoulders, or spine.

Nerve medications like Neurontin, Lyrica, Cymbalta, or Ultram may be prescribed if you are diagnosed with a severe pinched nerve. The pain of a less severe pinched nerve tends to stay within the area of the nerve, and can be managed with rest and over-the-counter pain relief medications.

Muscle relaxers or steroid injections are common back-pain treatment options for bone spurs and herniated discs. If your herniated disc does not respond to non-surgical options, you will most likely require a discectomy to relieve the pressure on your spine and eliminate your pain.

Spine Surgery
If your pain interferes with daily activities, or continues to worsen, you might want to consider spine surgery. A herniated disc requires medical attention if the pain radiates from your back to your legs or arms or if the pain comes with numbness, tingling, or weakness. You should see a neurosurgeon immediately if you have steadily worsening swelling or pain in your joints.

To learn more about your spine surgery options in Arkansas, contact Arkansas Surgical Hospital at
(877) 918-7020 to schedule a consultation with one of our renowned neurosurgeons.

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