Nerve root compression refers to a disruption of the normal course of the nerve as it leaves the spinal cord by some structure in the back. Acute nerve root compression can lead to symptoms of paraesthesia, numbness and pins and needles in the legs as well as a loss of full muscle power within the legs. Where the specific nerve that has become compressed is the sciatic nerve this condition is sometime called sciatica. Nerve root compression often occurs when an intervertebral disc in the lower back prolapses, compressing on the exiting nerve.
Sufferers of acute nerve root compression describe intense pain in the lower back as well as symptoms in the legs or buttocks. Often patients find it uncomfortable to stand up straight and get particularly painful with prolonged sitting. Coughing, sneezing and laughing often serve to increase the level of pain felt by patients with the condition.
Normally, in first time sufferers of the condition, the pain settles quickly within 2-6 weeks. If suffering is more prolonged than six weeks it may be necessary to arrange for an MRI scan of the lower back to assess the extent of the disc prolapse. In patient’s who don’t recover with rest and physiotherapy, surgery is occasionally required to remove the part of the disc which is compressing on the nerve. Thankfully, most cases don’t come to this.