If you’re experience back pain and leg weakness, see your doctor right away. He or she may use the term, “radiculopathy,” which is used to specifically describe pain, and symptoms such as tingling, weakness, or numbness in your extremities. These may be due to damage or compression to your nerve roots, which are bundled in with your spinal cord. Your nerve roots are essential to conveying messages from nerve fibers to your extremities, and problems manifest themselves in many different fashions. Very often, describing exactly where your symptoms are occurring (in addition to back pain) such as leg numbness or weakness, or tingling in your arms, can tell a doctor exactly which nerve roots are damaged or have problems. Your pain may vary, from dull, chronic aching, to sharp, burning, stabbing pains that are debilitating.
Other symptoms can include numbness or hypersensitivity to touch, and may be intermittent. The most common symptom of lumbar trouble is sciatica. This is when pain shoots down from your back into your buttocks, then travels down the legs to the feet. You might have muscle weakness as well, an indicator that nerve compression may be severe.
When you see the doctor, you’ll complete a comprehensive questionnaire, and your doctor will perform several physical tests. Your range of motion and flexibility will be challenged, with questions asked as to your discomfort or lack thereof. Muscle strength from side to side will be checked, and you might be asked to fill in a diagram that charts exactly where you’re experiencing pain, numbness, tingling sensations or weakness. Usually, this physical exam is followed by x-rays, and sometimes MRIs and CAT scans. MRI is used to determine where the nerve roots may be compressed, analyzing soft tissue for anomalies, unlike an x-ray’s ability to detect hard structural problems.
Treatment will, of course, vary based upon the findings of your physical examination and responses to your physician. If there is no evidence of root compression and muscle weakness, you’ll most likely receive a prescription for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, rest and physical therapy. You might be prescribed a back or neck brace, to support the soft tissue while you heal. Occasionally, surgery may be the only intervention. That will probably be the recommendation if you’re showing signs of muscle weakness that is definitely being caused by nerve root compression. Muscle weakness is a sign that the nerves are being damaged, and after physical therapy, surgery may be the only course of action.
Even after surgery, physical therapy will be necessary. This will involve treatment by a licensed physical therapist, who will give you a series of stretches and exercises to perform both in-office and at home, for a period of weeks to months. The exercises can sometimes relieve the symptoms on their own, pre-surgery, and they are a must after surgery, to regain your strength and flexibility.
Again, the only way to know for sure what’s up with your back pain and peripheral leg weakness is to see your doctor.