Pinched Nerve vs Herniated Disc: Knowing the Difference

Home » Pinched Nerve vs Herniated Disc: Knowing the Difference

Pain and discomfort in the back, neck or legs can be caused by many things. Two such conditions are a pinched nerve and a herniated disc – and they are often confused for one another!

Let’s uncover the tissues involved to explore what each condition means for you, and how to differentiate between them.

We’ll also discuss the best treatment options as well as home remedies for a pinched nerve vs. a herniated spinal disc.

Pinched nerve vs. Herniated Disc

A pinched nerve and a herniated disc can both cause radiating pain, muscle spasms, and difficulty moving your neck or back. If you have leg or arm pain without any neck or low back pain, you likely have a nerve pinch.

If you have back/neck pain, especially after heavy lifting, or an injury or accident, suspect a disc herniation and immediately seek care.

However, it’s common that the herniated disc itself puts the pressure on the nerve. This is precisely why disc bulges are bad – nerves are delicate and vital tissues!

Key Takeaway

Pinched nerve and herniated disc are two common conditions that present as back, neck or leg pains.

Pinched nerves can be present without a disc herniation, but disc herniations frequently cause problems when they pinch a nerve. Hence, they occur together often.

Treatment options for both include Physio, Acupuncture, medications such as NSAIDs or muscle relaxants, acupuncture and chiropractic care.

What is a Pinched Nerve?

A pinched nerve is a condition in which a nerve is compressed or irritated due to surrounding tissue, such as bone, cartilage, muscles, discs, or tendons. This will cause a nasty, acute symptom in the affected area.

The most common causes of a pinched nerve are repetitive motions that strain the same area over time; poor posture; direct pressure on the nerve from an injury or accident; and conditions like arthritis that reduce the space around nerves.

When it comes to symptoms of a pinched nerve, they vary depending on where it’s located. Generally speaking though, people may experience pain in the affected area as well as numbness and tingling sensations.

Weakness may also be present if the compression affects larger nerve fibers controlling muscle activity.

What is a Herniated Disc?

A herniated disc (also known as a slipped disc or disc bulge) is a condition that occurs when the soft inner material of the spinal disc pushes through its outer layer – the annulus fibrosus.

This can cause pain, numbness and tingling in the affected area, muscle weakness, and bigger concerns like sciatica.

In fact, a very common symptom of a herniated disc is radiating pain down one leg. This sciatica pain can be quite severe. It may start in the lower back and travel down into one buttock, thigh, calf or foot.

spinal disc herniation

Other symptoms include numbness or tingling sensations in the affected area, muscle weakness in certain areas such as legs or feet, difficulty controlling bladder or bowel movements due to nerve compression from a herniated disc, and shooting pains that worsen with coughing or sneezing.

Herniated discs are often caused by wear-and-tear on your spine over time, which weakens it and makes it more prone to injury; however, they can also occur suddenly due to trauma such as an accident or fall.

Risk factors for developing a herniated disc include:

  • Obesity – extra weight puts additional strain on your spine
  • Smoking – nicotine reduces blood flow to disks leading them to degenerate faster
  • Poor posture – incorrect posture places undue stress on your spine causing damage over time
  • Lack of exercise – not getting enough physical activity weakens muscles supporting your spine (the core) adding stress to discs and ligaments
poor posture on couch
Poor posture for extended times weakens your spine and discs.

Treatment Options for Herniated Disc

Treatment options vary depending on severity, and range from minimally invasive (Chiropractic, Physiotherapy, rest) to more invasive (steroid injections, pharmaceutical options).

If these fail then surgery may be necessary, in the form of microdiscectomy – removing a stuck piece of disc material from the nearby nerve root.

Before any treatment, diagnosis for this condition usually involves imaging tests like MRI scans, or CT scans, to view the damaged tissue.

Chiropractic Care

Chiropractic care is an effective treatment option for herniated discs. A chiropractor will use manual manipulation techniques to reduce inflammation around the affected area while restoring joint function.

They may also recommend exercises designed specifically for your individual needs that help strengthen muscles supporting your spine, and improve posture and flexibility in order to prevent further injury.

Physical Therapy for Herniated Disc

Physical therapy is another popular treatment option for herniated discs as it helps restore strength and mobility in weakened areas of your body that lead to the herniation.

Your physical therapist will work with you on stretching/strengthening exercises tailored specifically for your needs as well as strengthening exercises that target weak muscle groups associated with a herniation.

The idea is to return to normal activities more quickly than without physical therapy intervention!


In some cases, medications may be prescribed alongside other treatments such as chiropractic care or physical therapy to manage pain levels associated with a herniation. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly used medications prescribed by doctors for this purpose.

Of course, treatment options for a herniated disc vary depending on the severity of the injury. Next we will look at home remedies for a pinched nerve to explore other ways to alleviate pain and discomfort.

Home Remedies for Pinched Nerve

It occurs when a nerve becomes compressed or irritated due to injury or inflammation. Fortunately, there are several home remedies for pinched nerves that may help reduce symptoms and improve mobility.

Heat/Cold Therapy

Applying heat or cold packs to the affected area can be an effective way to reduce inflammation and relieve pain associated with a pinched nerve. Heat therapy increases blood flow to the area while cold therapy helps reduce swelling and numbs the painful sensation of a pinched nerve.

Be sure not to apply either treatment directly on skin as it could lead to burns.

Over-the-Counter Medications

Taking over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen/paracetamol (Tylenol) can help reduce inflammation around the compressed nerve and provide relief from discomfort caused by a pinched nerve. Don’t go wild and take these medications at levels more than directed on their labels.

Stretching Exercises

Gentle stretching exercises like yoga poses may help loosen tight muscles surrounding the affected area which can then relieve pressure on your nerves, resulting in less pain.

Stretches should be done slowly without bouncing movements so you don’t aggravate any existing injuries further and cause more harm than good.

Massage therapy involving acupressure is known to be beneficial for people suffering from chronic conditions including those related to a pinched nerve such as sciatica, neck pain, and shoulder stiffness.

A massage therapist will use techniques like kneading, rubbing, and tapping along with oils and lotions depending upon individual needs and preferences of each patient. This helps relax tense muscles, and improves circulation throughout your body, likely reducing your stress levels at the same time!

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice used for healing various ailments including those related to pins and needles sensations caused by compression of nerves due to injury or inflammation.

This technique involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points located near where one feels most discomfort, thereby stimulating them which releases endorphins – natural hormones produced within our bodies that act as natural analgesics providing relief from both physical and emotional distress.

Avoid activities that aggravate your symptoms such as lifting heavy objects, sitting in awkward positions, standing for long periods, bending down repeatedly, running and jumping.

These activities put extra strain on already inflamed areas causing further damage – so avoid them until you’re moving well without pain.

Home remedies for pinched nerve can be a great way to relieve pain and discomfort, but it is important to know the differences between a pinched nerve and herniated disc in order to choose the right treatment option. Let’s explore home remedies for a herniated disc next.

Home Remedies for Herniated Disc

A herniated disc can be a painful and debilitating condition. Fortunately, there are several home remedies that may help reduce the symptoms associated with this condition, while you get professional help at the same time.

Heat or Cold Packs

Applying heat or cold packs to the affected area can help reduce inflammation and provide relief from pain. Heat therapy is best for chronic conditions while cold therapy is more effective for acute flare-ups of pain.

It’s important to note that extreme temperatures should not be used as they can cause further damage to the nerves in the spine.

Over-the-Counter Medications

Taking over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can also provide temporary relief from herniated disc pain. However, it’s important to consult your doctor before taking any medication as some medications may interact with other medical conditions you have or medications you are already taking.

Stretching Exercises

Stretching exercises designed specifically for herniated discs can help improve flexibility and range of motion in the affected area while reducing muscle tension and spasms which often accompany this condition.

Examples include hamstring stretches, piriformis stretches, hip flexor stretches, gluteal stretch exercises, lumbar rotation exercises and spinal extension exercises among others.

Yoga Poses

Certain yoga poses have been found to be beneficial for people suffering from a herniated disc including cobra pose (bhujangasana), bridge pose (setu bandha sarvangasana) and locust pose (salabhasana).

These poses increase flexibility in the spine while strengthening core muscles which helps support proper posture when standing or sitting, reducing pressure on an injured disc in the lower back region of your body.

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy has been shown to reduce muscle tension around a herniated disc, thus providing relief from pain associated with this condition.

It does so by improving circulation throughout the body, allowing oxygen-rich blood to flow into areas where it is needed – like damaged nerve tissue surrounding an injured vertebrae.

This can have a really positive impact on your healing time!


Acupressure is a non-invasive therapy that, like its cousin acupuncture, involves applying pressure to specific points on the body but without needles. This can help your back pain by promoting relaxation, improving circulation, and releasing tension in the muscles.

Some common acupressure points for back pain include the lower back, hips, and feet. Read our full post for the best acupressure points for lower back pain.


Acupuncture has long been used as an alternative treatment option for many different types of ailments including those related to a herniated disc.

This ancient Chinese practice involves inserting thin needles into specific points along energy pathways known as meridians located throughout our bodies helping restore balance within our systems aiding natural healing processes without causing further harm.

Read out post about acupuncture vs. dry needling to get a full understanding about these worthwhile treatment options.

Lumbar Supports While Sitting And Sleeping

Using lumbar supports when sitting down at work or sleeping at night may help keep your spine in a better position for relieving pressure on an injured vertebral segment.

It makes sense to let your body compensate how it needs to, and these items can aid that process.

The idea is to heal naturally without having additional stress placed upon your spine in your home and work life.

Avoiding activities that aggravate symptoms such as lifting heavy objects, running, jumping, etc. will also aid in recovery time by preventing further injury being done onto already weakened structures within your back.

This allows ample opportunity to rest up so your body can begin repairing itself naturally over time and eventually lead towards full recovery with patience, dedication and understanding of the issue as best you can.

FAQ – Pinched Nerve vs Herniated Disc

How do you know if you have a pinched nerve or herniated disc?

A pinched nerve is usually characterized by a sharp, shooting pain that radiates through an affected area. It can also cause numbness, tingling and muscle weakness.

A herniated disc is typically identified by lower back or neck pain, with or without pain down one leg or arm and may be accompanied by numbness or tingling in the extremities.

Is a pinched nerve always a herniated disc?

No, a pinched nerve is not always caused by a herniated disc. A pinched nerve can be caused by many different conditions including bone spurs, muscle strain, ligament damage, and excess fluid.

These can come about from poor posture or an injury to the spine. Treatment for a pinched nerve depends on its cause and may include physical therapy, chiropractic, medications, injections, and surgery in some cases.

How do you confirm a pinched nerve?

Confirming a pinched nerve requires an evaluation by a medical professional. A doctor will conduct physical tests, such as range of motion and reflexes, to determine if there is nerve compression.

Imaging tests like X-rays or MRIs can also be used to identify the source of the pinched nerve. If necessary, an electromyography (EMG) test may be performed to measure electrical activity in your muscles and nerves for further diagnosis.

Once confirmed, treatment options can then be discussed with your doctor.

How can you tell the difference between a herniated disc and a sciatic nerve?

A herniated disc is a condition where the soft inner material of an intervertebral disc has pushed out through a tear in the outer layer. This can cause pressure on nearby nerves, leading to pain and other nerve symptoms.

Sciatic nerve compression occurs when one or more of the spinal nerve roots that form the sciatic nerve become compressed or irritated, so the symptoms can be very similar. Symptoms include pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in the lower back and legs.

The two conditions are slightly different because herniated discs do not always lead to sciatica, and occur between vertebrae. Sciatic nerve compression affects either spinal nerves or the large sciatic nerve itself.


When it comes to pinched nerve vs herniated disc, it is important to understand the differences between them and be aware of the various treatment options available.

While some people may find relief with home remedies such as stretching or massage, others may need more targeted treatments like physical therapy or medications.

Ultimately, it is important to consult a professional in order to determine which condition you have and what course of action will provide the best results for your individual needs.

If you suffer from chronic pain or injury, it’s time to take control of your health and get the relief you deserve. Physickle is here to help! Our blog provides helpful advice on sciatica, back and neck pain, knee injuries, stretches and home remedies for chronic conditions.

With insight from an experienced chiropractor at your disposal, let us help guide you towards great health today!

Home » Pinched Nerve vs Herniated Disc: Knowing the Difference

Author Bio

Dr Jason Whealing headshot

Dr. Jason Whealing is a Chiropractor with extensive experience across the UK and Australia. He is passionate about family care and injury management. The cases Jason works with daily include back pain, neck pain, jaw pain, sciatica, knee pain, shoulder pain, headaches and migraine.

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