When does leg pain indicate a back problem?
Leg Pain From Back Disorders
Leg pain coming from the low back, or the lumbar spine, is commonly referred to as sciatica. Sciatica could involve pain in the buttocks, down the thigh, into the leg or in the foot. It is often associated with numbness or tingling, and sometimes weakness.
We’ve all experienced leg pain at one time or another–often just from sitting too long. But when does leg pain indicate a back problem?
For some people, leg pain can present as a searing pain that radiates from the buttocks down the leg, or intermittent pain that shoots from the lower back down the leg and occasionally into the foot. Unlike many forms of low back pain that can often be a dull ache, for many, leg pain can be excruciating and nearly intolerable.
Other people may experience the sensation that their leg or foot has “fallen asleep.” Unlike the temporary numbness of an asleep leg, numbness coming from a low back problem can be nearly constant and can seriously affect a person’s quality of life. Typical symptoms can range from a slight tingling sensation to complete numbness down the leg and into the foot.
Numbness and/or pain that radiates down the full length of the leg is called sciatica. Sciatica can be caused by stenosis, the narrowing or compression of the spinal canal, which in turn put pressure on your spinal cord and spinal nerves.
A number of factors can cause this compression, including bone spurs, bulging of herniated discs, degenerative disc disease or as a result of certain types of arthritis.
To save you from unnecessary testing and treatment of your legs, we want to share with you the types of leg pain that are actually caused by a back problem.
Describing your leg pain
Pain symptoms, no matter what body part they affect, can vary significantly. The pain may be dull, sharp, constant, or intermittent. But the type of leg pain you feel may help determine the source of your discomfort.
Your back may be the source of your leg pain if your symptoms include:
Pain that radiates down your leg
Muscle weakness in your leg
Tingling, numbness, or burning sensation down your leg
Pain symptoms that only affect one leg
Electric shock sensation that travels down your leg
You may not experience all of these symptoms. But if any of these symptoms match the type of leg pain you’re experiencing, then it may be time to see us at Texas Spine Consultants for an evaluation of your spine and back, instead of seeking treatment for your legs.
Back problems that cause leg pain
Almost everyone at some point in their life develops lower back pain. This part of your back includes your lumbar spine, which is responsible for supporting much of your upper body weight.
Aging and the stress of your body weight leads to degeneration of the components that make up your spine, including the discs, ligaments, cartilage, and vertebrae. These degenerative changes are often the source of lower back pain, as well as your leg pain. Back problems that cause leg pain include:
If your pain radiates from your back through your buttocks and into one of your legs then you may have sciatica. This common pain condition occurs from irritation or pinching of your sciatic nerve, which is a thick sensory and motor nerve that travels from your lumbar spine through the buttocks and into your legs on both sides of your body. Herniated discs and bone spurs are the most common cause of sciatica.
Pain or cramping in one or both of your legs when standing or walking for a long period of time may be signs that you have spinal stenosis. This common lower back condition is characterized by a narrowing of the space within your spine, which presses on the nerves running through. Symptoms caused by spinal stenosis tend to worsen with time.
Degenerative disc disease
Though disc degeneration is a fact of aging, not everyone develops degenerative disc disease. Back pain is the most common symptom of degenerative disc disease, but the changes in the health of your discs may also cause pain that radiates to your legs. Or, in the case of nerve root damage, leg weakness or foot drop.
Getting leg pain relief
Once you know the back problem causing your leg pain, you can get the treatment you need to alleviate your discomfort and improve back health. At Texas Spine Consultants we specialize in diagnosing and treating spine conditions and offer many treatments for leg pain, including:
Though surgery is considered the last resort for the treatment of leg pain, our orthopedic spine surgeons use the most advanced minimally invasive techniques, including the XLIF® lateral interbody fusion, to remove the discs irritating your nerves.
Pain in your leg doesn’t mean there’s a problem with your leg.
The SpineAlign Team