Sometimes when people have low back pain, they also have associated leg pain. Usually, we refer to this leg pain as sciatica. But is leg pain always sciatica?
Technically speaking, sciatica only refers to pain that travels down the leg via the sciatic nerve, which is really a superhighway of nerves that exits your low back on both sides and then travels down your buttock, the back of the thigh, the calf, and even into the foot. Often the pain associated with sciatica will travel down the leg and to the calf, ankle, or foot. Sciatica can be caused by irritation of the nerve at the low back or buttock (in what is called piriformis syndrome) due to compression, inflammation, spinal stenosis, disc herniation, etc.
However, there are other nerves that travel from the low back into the leg, and these nerves can also be irritated by similar circumstances. Here are two examples:
1) There's a nerve called the "lateral femoral cutaneous nerve" that can cause numbness and tingling at the outside of the thigh. That's the only place that will feel numb in this condition, called meralgia paresthetica. This condition is usually caused by compression of the nerve at the front of the thigh, groin, or low back.
You can sometimes solve meralgia paresthetica by yourself. If the nerve compression is being caused by having too many objects in your front pants pockets, for example, then simply removing the items from your pocket may relieve your symptoms. The compression can also be caused by obesity: the extra weight gain can put pressure on the nerve as it passes through the groin. In this case, weight loss will usually relieve the pain. Other causes, such as low back misalignment, will need to addressed by a few visits to your chiropractor.
2) The sacroiliac joints, if inflamed or immobile, can irritate nearby nerves and cause pain that radiates to the thighs, as well. The classic case of sacroiliac radiculitis involves low back pain that causes radiating pain to the outside of the thigh but usually stops at or above the knee. In other words, this radiating pain generally does not travel into the lower leg or foot the way that sciatica usually does.
The sacroiliac joints generally require chiropractic care to regain their proper function. Stretches and exercises can help to establish core strength in the low back and abdominal areas, but the sacroiliac joints usually need chiropractic adjustments to re-establish lumbar and pelvic biomechanical stability.
Radiating pain can affect many different nerves and result in many different presentations of pain, numbness, and tingling. It is important to remember that not all radiating pain is sciatica, and not all radiating pains require the same treatment.
If you are experiencing radiating pain, consult your chiropractor to obtain a proper diagnosis. Only when the correct diagnosis is established can the proper treatment be advised.
Unless otherwise attributed, all content is written by Kyle Johnson, DC, of Johnson Family Chiropractic of Peoria.
All images used are under Creative Commons license.
Although every effort has been made to provide an accurate description of our chiropractic care and its benefits, the information given on this website and blog is not intended to be, nor should it be interpreted as, medical advice for any condition.
If you have any questions regarding your condition, you should seek the help of Dr. Johnson in person, so that he may properly assess your condition.
This blog is provided by Johnson Family Chiropractic of Peoria, S.C., proudly located in Peoria, IL.