Back pain is a common ailment and the leading cause of job-related disability. It can equally affect men and women, ranging in intensity from a mild ache lasting a few days to intense, chronic pain lasting for weeks at a time.
Though often caused by muscle strain and normal wear and tear of the body, back pain may also be a symptom of more serious conditions. In some cases, back pain can extend to other areas of the body, specifically to your legs.
Other symptoms associated with back and leg pain include:
- burning sensations
- being sore to the touch
- limited mobility
Often the result of a herniated disk, sciatica is a form of pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve. Your sciatic nerve extends from your lower back, through your hips and butt, and down your legs. If you experience sciatica pain, it will typically occur on one side of your body.
Common symptoms associated with sciatica include:
- pain radiating from your lower spine down the back of your leg
- sharp jolts of pain in the affected areas
- burning sensations
- muscle weakness
- trouble controlling your bladder or bowels
Self-care, exercise, and proper posture can usually improve sciatica symptoms. If your condition does not improve, your doctor may prescribe muscle relaxants or anti-inflammatories to reduce pain and discomfort.
In some cases, your doctor may inject steroids into the area surrounding your sciatic nerve to alleviate pain. If your sciatic pain begins to cause weakness or affects your quality of life, surgery may be the best treatment. Always consult with your doctor before pursuing treatment options.
Lumbar herniated disk
A lumbar herniated disk is a ruptured disk in your lower back. It occurs when the nucleus or “jelly” is pushed out of your spinal disk through a tear. The ruptured disk puts pressure on a spinal nerve that can cause severe pain, numbness, and sometimes weakness.
Other symptoms associated with a lumbar herniated disk include:
- persistent back pain worsened by standing, coughing, or sneezing
- back spasms
- decreased reflexes at the knee or ankle
- leg muscle weakness
- numbness in leg and foot
- spinal cord compression
Treatments vary depending on the severity of the damage. In minor cases, doctors may recommend rest, pain medication, and, sometimes, acupuncture. If symptoms don’t improve within six weeks, your doctor may recommend physical therapy or surgery.
The piriformis is a flat, band-like muscle found in your glutes near the top of your hip joint. The piriformis helps to stabilize your hip joint, and lifts and rotates your thigh away from your body. Piriformis syndrome is a neurological disorder that occurs when your piriformis muscle compresses your sciatic nerve.
Common symptoms associated with piriformis syndrome include:
- pain extending to your lower leg
- numbness in your buttocks
Treatment involves pain relief and avoiding pain triggers such as certain sitting positions and strenuous physical activities. Your doctor may recommend rest, hot and cold treatments, and physical therapy to increase your mobility. Surgery is a last resort, but may be required in severe circumstances.
The arachnoid is a membrane that protects spinal cord nerves. Inflammation or irritation of the arachnoid can cause the pain disorder arachnoiditis. In many cases, people suffering from arachnoiditis experience pain in the lower back and legs, as it affects the nerves in those areas.
The more common symptom of this condition is a stinging, burning pain. Other symptoms associated with arachnoiditis include:
- tingling or numbness, specifically in the legs
- “skin-crawling” sensations
- muscle cramps
- bowel or bladder dysfunction
Though there is no complete cure for arachnoiditis, treatments focus on pain management. Your doctor may prescribe pain medication or recommend physiotherapy and exercise. Surgery is not recommended for this condition because it can increase the risk of scar tissue formation.
Radiating back and leg pain are often symptoms of more serious medical conditions. While in some cases pain may improve within a few days, some conditions can cause debilitating pain for weeks at a time. If you begin to experience regular, daily pain or worsening symptoms, seek immediate medical attention. Discuss treatment options with your doctor to ensure the best quality of life.