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Is Your Back Causing Leg Pain?

Our spines are like information superhighways: Connecting nerves from across our body to our brains to process and send information. It shouldn’t be so surprising, then, that when we have an issue in our back, we can feel it in other places in our body. This is particularly true when it comes to the lower back and leg pain.

Low Back and Leg Pain

Nerve roots exit your spine and travel down your legs. When one of those nerves is damaged, you may feel pain down one of your legs. The damaged nerve is called lumbar radiculopathy. 

If you are suffering from lumbar radiculopathy, you may feel:

  • Burning or searing pain in one of your legs. This pain usually begins at the lower back or in one of the buttocks and runs down the leg. It can also feel like a jolt that travels down their lower back to their leg. This type of pain is typically associated with the sciatic nerve.
  • Numbness or tingling, which can feel like your foot or leg has “fallen asleep.” This type of pain can make it extremely difficult to drive or walk. 
  • Foot weakness or heaviness that can result in feeling like your foot doesn’t move as fast as it needs to, or feeling like you need to drag your foot behind you when walking or going up the stairs. 
  • Positional pain that can change with positions, such as when you sit, stand or walk. 

One of the most familiar types of radiculopathy is sciatica. This can occur when a herniated disc or bone spur puts pressure on the sciatic nerve, which causes leg pain down one side. 

Causes of Leg Pain

There are many back problems that can cause lumbar radiculopathy. Some of those may include:

Treating Leg Pain

Leg pain often goes away on it’s own. However if you have been experiencing pain that doesn’t get better with rest or over-the-counter pain medication, it may be time to schedule an appointment to see a your primary care provider. 

During your first appointment, your provider will ask you several questions to understand your medical history and help pinpoint the source of your leg pain. Then, your provider will do a through exam to help identify the source of your leg pain. Additional tests, such as an exam or scan may be ordered to pinpoint the location of pain.

Once you and your doctor have identified the low back issue causing your leg pain, you have several different treatment options. Physical therapy can often effectively treat leg pain caused by your back. Other treatments may include pain medication, steroid injections, rest and exercise. If these treatments do not help your leg pain, your doctor may refer you to a specialist.