If you are experiencing leg pain, the source of your discomfort may not actually be in your leg, but in your lower back, or lumbar spine. The lumbar spine is a common source of back pain because it bears more body weight than any other section of the spine and is also subject to a significant amount of stress and force, be it from lifting a load of laundry or blocking a tackle.
When you feel pain, it’s a reaction to signals transmitted throughout your body. These signals are sent from the pain source through the nerves in the spinal cord and into the brain, where they are perceived as pain. Problems that originate in the lumbar spine may result in pain and other symptoms, such as tingling, numbness and muscle weakness, which may be localized in the lower back and/or extend into the hips, buttocks and/or legs. The medical term for symptoms that radiate into the extremities is radiculopathy, derived from the Latin words “radix,” or roots, and “pathos,” which means disease.
The lumbar spine is made up of 5 motion segments. Each motion segment consists of 2 vertebral bodies separated by a lumbar disc, and a pair of lumbar facet joints.
The five vertebrae of the lumbar spine (L1-L5), located directly below the thoracic spine (mid-back) and are directly above the sacrum (tail bone), are separated by shock-absorbing intervertebral discs and supported by muscles and ligaments. These discs are very important for the normal mobility and function of your back.
Each disc is made up of two parts:
•The nucleus pulposus – the soft, gel-like center of the disc.
•The annulus fibrosis – the strong, fibrous outer ring that surrounds and supports the nucleus pulposus.
Posteriorly or behind the vertebral bodies and lumbar discs are a set of lumbar facet joints that function as true moveable joints. The facet joints are composed of two cartilage surfaces opposing each other surrounded by a strong ligamentous joint capsule. The facet joints are critical for lumbar motion.
What’s causing my leg pain?
Possible causes of leg pain include:
- Facet joint injury
- Lumbar disc herniation
- Lumbar radiculopathy
- Cauda equina
- Lumbar disc annular tear
- Lumbar stenosis
- Lumbar foraminal stenosis
- Muscle spasm
- Lumbar degenerative disc disease
- Lumbar spondylosis
- Lumbar spondylolisthesis
- Lumbar spondylolysis
- Sacroiliac joint injury
- Lumbar trauma
- Lumbar fracture
- Degenerative scoliosis
- Ankyloses spondylitis
When should I see my doctor?
If you are suffering from leg, buttock or hip pain or pain as a result of a physical trauma involving your lower back, such as a fall or car accident, you should seek treatment from a physician.
Consult a physician immediately if you:
- Are experiencing numbness in, or having difficulty moving, your extremities
- Experience bladder control loss or impairment
- In instances of acute leg pain with or without back pain and do not experience any improvement after 72 hours of self-treatment at home.
- Severe pain in the leg or back.
If you are experiencing leg pain, talk to your doctor about a identifying the cause of your leg pain. Proper diagnosis by your doctor will ensure the correct treatment plan.
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