Conditions that affect your neck or lower back, or trauma to these areas, can result in a pinched nerve. This can then result in nerve pain. Nerve pain is known as “neuropathic pain” in medical literature. Not everyone with a back or neck problem will suffer from nerve pain, but it is not uncommon, can vary from person to person, and can be very unpleasant and debilitating.

It is important to recognise if the pain you are feeling is nerve pain. Most people who experience nerve pain will describe the pain sensation as burning or stabbing in nature. It can sometimes also be described as shooting in nature and there may be an electric-shock like component to it.

In conjunction there can be sensations on the skin described by the sufferer as: the skin feels raw; there are ants crawling on the affected area; or there is a vice like sensation involving the affected area.

Specifically, when talking about nerve pain related to a problem in the neck or back, the pain will involve your arm or leg. Most commonly one arm or leg will be affected more than the other, or exclusively involving one side is usual.

Because the symptoms are caused by the irritation or compression of a specific spinal nerve, the symptoms you feel will be in a specific distribution. Each spinal nerve supplies certain skin areas on your arm (or leg) and certain muscles. The nerve pain will be felt in the areas of skin that that specific nerve supplies. While each person will have slightly different distribution of what each nerve supplies, it is uncommon for nerve pain to affect your entire arm and leg equally.

The diagram above shows the areas of skin supplied by each spinal nerve. It is possible to experience pain, tingling or numbness involving the area designated by that nerve. There is some overlap of nerve function so you may not experience symptoms precisely in this area. Areas labelled with a “C” preface relate to your neck spinal nerves. In the lower back the spinal nerves are either L – for lumbar and S – for sacral.

The most effective and suitable treatments for nerve pain will vary for each person and can depend on the cause of the pain, its severity, and the area in which it is located. If you feel that your pain is typical of nerve pain as described above, it is important to consult with your doctor as this may be due to nerves being damaged and the sooner this is discovered and corrected the better.

A diagram of Spinal and Cranial Nerves which may be involved in nerve pain