The Lamen


by | Feb 22, 2023

What is a pinched nerve?  •  Symptoms  •  Sciatica  •  Pinched nerve or muscle pain  •  Causes  •  Exercises  •  Lifestyle changes  •  Treatment  •  Seeking help  •  FAQs  •  The gist

A pinched nerve can occur for several reasons but typically occurs when something places excess pressure on a nerve in the lower part of your spine. It can cause shooting pain, numbness, or a burning sensation in your lower back, legs, or feet.

In many cases, the cause of a pinched nerve is a herniated disc, also known as a slipped or bulging disc. When pinched nerves are located in the lower back, the condition is called lumbar radiculopathy.

A pinched nerve can be painful, although it ranges in severity. The condition is usually treatable with OTC medications, rest, and physical therapy.

It is important to see a doctor to properly diagnose any pain in your lower back that does not go away with rest. If the nerves experience pressure for a long period, it can lead to chronic pain and permanent damage.

Read this article to learn more about pinched nerves, what causes them, and how you can tell them apart from muscle aches. We also highlight treatment and physical therapy options to relieve the symptoms of pinched nerves in the lower back.

What is a pinched nerve?

Radiculopathy, which is commonly known as a pinched nerve, is nerve compression behind conditions such as lower back pain and sciatica.

Your spine contains a total of 31 pairs of nerves. Any time some change occurs in the body that interferes with the space reserved for these nerves, compression of those nerves is possible. It can be caused by injuries, repetitive strain, or if bones or tissues press against a nerve.

Often, discomfort from a pinched nerve is not experienced in the area of the compression itself, but somewhere along the nerve’s path. In the case of a nerve in the lower back, the pain might be experienced in your back, hips, legs, and feet.

A pinched nerve in the lower back is a common condition, estimated to affect 3 to 5 percent of the population, often in people over 40.

Symptoms of a pinched nerve in lower back

When a pinched nerve occurs in the lower back, pain is typically felt in the hips, buttocks, legs, and feet besides the lower back. The most common symptom is a sharp, shooting pain reaching down to the feet.

Other common symptoms include:

  • a burning sensation
  • pins and needles sensation in your foot or leg
  • muscle spasms
  • weakness in the affected leg

When the pain in your lower back, legs, or feet is caused due to the pinching of the sciatic nerve, the condition is called sciatica.

Sciatica and lower back pain

Sciatica refers to the pain that is caused by the damage or compression of the sciatic nerve. The condition is often confused with general lower back pain.

Pain caused due to sciatica is not exclusive to the lower back, as it can extend down to either of the legs, usually only one at a time. The primary symptom of sciatica is stabbing pain along with numbness. If you’re experiencing pain in the lower back only, chances are you don’t have sciatica.

Sciatica can be caused due to a number of conditions, including:

  • a herniated disc
  • osteoarthritis
  • injury
  • spinal stenosis
  • piriformis syndrome

Most cases of sciatica go away in less than 6 weeks, although more severe cases may persist for a longer duration. Certain stretching exercises can often reduce tension on the sciatic nerve to relieve symptoms.

Read about stretches that can help relieve sciatic pain.

Is it a pinched nerve or muscle pain?

Both nerve pain and muscle pain can cause severe pain, limit your mobility, and interfere with your ability to complete daily habits. However, you can tell the two apart.

Nerve pain often causes sharp, burning pain, and can be accompanied by a tingling sensation. Muscle pain, on the other hand, causes a dull ache, tightness, or soreness in the muscle.

Muscle pain also tends to be localized in the muscle itself, while nerve pain can radiate outwards to other parts of the body.

A rule of thumb to tell whether the pain in your lower back is from nerve pain is if the discomfort is also experienced in your legs or feet. If the pain is localized to the lower back muscles, it is likely to be a muscle ache.


While a pinched nerve is caused by compression of the nerve, it can be caused due to a number of reasons.

The possible causes of pinching of nerves include:

  • a slipped disc pressing against the nerves
  • an injury that might be putting pressure on the nerves
  • spinal stenosis, which reduces the amount of space available to the spinal column
  • rheumatoid arthritis, which causes inflammation of the joints that put pressure on nearby nerves
  • bone degeneration

Besides health conditions, there are some other factors that might increase the risk of a person developing a pinched nerve in the lower back.

These include:

  • obesity
  • pregnancy
  • poor posture
  • wear and tear of the spine with age
  • genetics

You’re more likely to experience a pinched nerve in the lower back in your midlife. Men are commonly affected in their 40s, while women experience this in their 50s and 60s.

This is because as you age, your spinal discs flatten due to wear and tear. This places additional pressure on the nerves around the spine.

Additionally, your muscles degenerate, which leads to less support for the spine and promotes poor posture. This can lead to additional pressure on the spine, increasing your risk of nerve compression.

Exercises for a pinched nerve in lower back

The most common treatment for a pinched nerve is resting the affected area. However, physical therapy designed specifically to stretch the area affected can help in relieving the symptoms in most cases.

However, these stretches and exercises should only be performed with proper technique. Additionally, you should discontinue or modify any exercise that might be causing further compression or unbearable discomfort.

Lumbar rotations

  • Lie on your back on a firm surface, with your feet planted on the floor and your knees bent.
  • Keep your legs together, your hands on your sides, and your gaze upwards.
  • Lower both your knees to the right side as far as you can while keeping your back on the floor. Stay in this position for a few seconds.
  • Slowly return to the starting position and then repeat the exercise on the other side.

Try doing the exercise 10 to 15 times on each side, repeating for 2 or 3 sets.


  • Sit on your knees with your hands underneath your shoulders, making the table pose. Keep the spine neutral at this stage.
  • Inhale and allow your belly to sink towards the floor, keeping your chest pressed forward.
  • Next, round your spine outwards while tucking your chest and pelvis inwards.

Repeat the exercise 5 to 10 times at a steady pace.

Supine twist

  • Lying on your back, extend both arms to your sides facing down, making a “T”.
  • Bend your right knee and bring it over to the left side of your body, twisting your spine and lower back.
  • Look towards your right hand and breathe into the posture.
  • Maintain the posture for a few seconds, then switch.

Repeat the exercise 3 to 5 times on each side for up to 2 or 3 sets.

Knees to chest

  • Lie on your back on a firm surface, with your legs extended straight.
  • Lift both your knees towards your chest, and use your hands to hold your knees in this position.
  • Take a few deep breaths in this position.
  • Release and repeat.

Repeat the exercise a few times for 2 to 3 stretches, making sure to not place any excess strain on your lower back.

Happy baby

  • Lie flat on your back on a firm surface.
  • Bend your knees and bring them towards your chest while the soles of your feet face the ceiling.
  • Grab the outside of your feet, spread your knees apart, and gently rock from side to side (like a happy baby).

Continue rocking for a few breaths while maintaining your breathing pattern.

Lifestyle changes

While rest, medication, and physical therapy can help with recovery from a pinched nerve in most cases, you should also take steps to prevent it from occurring again.

Most people experience lower back pain for the first time between the ages of 30 and 50 years, and it can get more common as you age.

Therefore, your body requires a certain level of fitness, including mobility to ensure that you can avoid such conditions.

Strengthening your back

Any muscle that is not being used and exercised sufficiently will experience weakening. Your spine is supported by the muscles surrounding it. Strengthening these muscles in the lower back can help stabilize your spine, prevent its wear and tear, and better support the upper body.

Surrounding your spine are your core muscles, which act similar to a brace in keeping you upright. Acute back pain is often related to a weak core, at least to a certain extent.

Exercises that can strengthen your core include:

  • planks
  • bird dog
  • side plank rotations

These exercises combined with resistance training that specifically targets the lower back can significantly improve the longevity of your spine.

Losing weight

Researchers are not sure about the association between obesity and lower back pain, but one common belief is that the extra weight you’re carrying puts excess pressure on your spine, thereby resulting in lower back pain.

According to a meta-analysis from 2009, being obese is associated with a greater risk of lower back pain, and the association is stronger for women compared to men.

Physicians believe that excess weight leads to bad posture, with your pelvis pulled forward. This places excess strain on your lower back, and can also result in nerve compression or a pinched nerve.

Losing weight can help alleviate this pain and pressure on your discs, as well as improve your overall fitness. A healthier diet coupled with exercise can also help reduce inflammation, further alleviating pain in your lower back and other joints.

Better posture

Your sitting behavior can have a significant impact on your spine health and lower back pain. Common bad posture habits that can result in lower back issues include:

  • sitting slouched
  • standing or walking hunched forward
  • lying on your belly on the bed while working
  • lifting heavy objects off the floor with your back bent

The stress caused by bad posture accumulates over time and slowly worsens your spine health. They can reduce blood supply, lead to hernias, or cause a pinched nerve.

Maintaining the right posture while sitting or standing can benefit your back health. The right posture is one which has your body properly aligned and balanced, with your spine in a neutral position.

When standing, your ears, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles should be in a straight line, with your back upright. Your shoulders should be pulled back, and your abdominal muscles slightly engaged.

When sitting, your back should be straight, and your neck upright but not rigid. Your torso should be supported by the back of the chair, and your feet flat on the floor. Your shoulders should lay relaxed but not slumped.


If your doctor diagnoses a pinched nerve as the cause of your lower back pain, they might suggest a combination:

  • rest
  • physical therapy
  • over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication
  • lifestyle changes (such as losing weight or quitting smoking)
  • surgery (only in serious cases)

The treatment is decided based on the severity of the pain as well as if the patient has some other health condition. Short-term lower back pain is often self-relieving and goes away by itself, although physical therapy and medications can help cope with the pain.

Pain medications

OTC nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen are often used to reduce pain. These medications work by reducing inflammation to relieve some pain. Some people might also benefit from using topical pain relievers.

Before taking NSAIDs, it is suggested that you talk with your doctor to rule out any adverse effects. People who regularly consume alcohol or are on blood thinners are at a greater risk of side effects from these drugs.

Home remedies

Lower back pain can often result from lifestyle choices. As such, your doctor might recommend you some home remedies as well as lifestyle modifications to help manage the symptoms of a pinched nerve in your lower back.

These include:

  • ice and heat
  • giving the pain some time to heal
  • low-intensity physical activity such as walking
  • avoiding lifting heavy weights
  • a better posture
  • orthopedic mattresses

People who smoke cigarettes are also at a greater risk of back pain. An analysis found that nearly 37 percent of smokers experienced lower back pain. A greater number of cigarettes smoked per day also resulted in an increased prevalence of back pain.

Steroid injections

If your symptoms persist even after taking OTC pain medications, your doctor might recommend you get a steroid injection.

A lumbar epidural steroid injection (ESI) is injected into the epidural space around the spinal nerves in your lower back. These injections reduce inflammation in the spinal nerves, providing relief for lower back pain.


Early diagnosis of a pinched nerve in the lower back typically helps in preventing further damage. However, if your pain persists even after other treatments, your doctor might recommend surgery as a last resort.

Your doctor might recommend a spinal laminectomy if the pinched nerve is caused due to spinal stenosis, while a herniated disc might be treated with a microdiscectomy.

Being an invasive process, back surgery carries some degree of risk, and can require a long recovery time followed by physical therapy. In some cases, the procedure might cause some degree of permanent mobility loss. It should therefore be the last option when treating lower back pain.

Seeing a doctor

It is often hard to know what is causing your lower back pain. In most cases, the pain goes away on its own, and physical therapy can often speed up the recovery process.

However, any pain in the lower back that lingers even after home care can be a sign of something serious. If the pain is chronic or has extended beyond your back to your lower limbs, it can be caused due to a pinched nerve.

It is recommended to see your doctor if your symptoms are not improving after a few weeks, if they have worsened over time, or if the pain is making you unable to move and perform daily activities.

Frequently asked questions

How to get rid of a pinched nerve in my lower back?

A pinched nerve in your lower back often goes away on its own with some rest. Gentle stretching, over-the-counter pain medication, and lifestyle changes typically relieve the symptoms for a quicker recovery. However, more serious cases of a pinched nerve may require steroid injections or physical therapy, and even surgery in some cases.

Is my lower back pain due to a pinched nerve?

If the pain is localized to your lower back, it is typically not caused due to a pinched nerve. Symptoms of a pinched nerve in the lower back include a tingling sensation and sharp pain that radiated down your hips, buttocks, and legs.

What does a pinched nerve in the lower back feel like?

A pinched nerve in the lower back causing a sharp pain often accompanied by a burning sensation. It can be accompanied by the “pins-and-needles” sensation, muscle weakness, and muscle spasms. Besides the lower back, the pain is also felt in the hips, buttocks, legs, and feet.

Will lower back pain from a pinched nerve go away on its own?

Acute lower back pain is often self-relieving and goes away on its own in a few days. However, chronic pain may require treatment.

Is it serious?

How serious a pinched nerve in your lower back is depends upon its cause and the severity of your symptoms. If the pain does not go away with home remedies, OTC medication, and stretching, it can be a sign of something serious. Typically, pain that is severe enough to make you unable to perform daily activities means that you should see a doctor.

The gist

Your spine contains a large number of nerves. Any time something interferes with them, it can lead to a pinched nerve. In most cases, a pinched nerve is caused by a herniated disc.

A pinched nerve in your lower back can cause shooting pain, burning sensation, or numbness in your lower back, hips, legs, and feet. In more serious cases, it may cause debilitating pain.

It is important to see a doctor to properly diagnose any pain in your lower back that does not go away with rest. If the nerves experience pressure for a long period, it can lead to chronic pain and permanent damage.