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:
being sore to the touch
Here are some causes of lower back and leg pain.
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
trouble controlling your bladder or bowels
Self-care, exercise, and proper posture can usually improve sciatica symptoms. If your condition doesn’t 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
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 a few 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 who have 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
bowel or bladder dysfunction
Though there’s no complete cure for arachnoiditis, treatments focus on pain management. Your doctor may prescribe pain medication or recommend physiotherapy and exercise. Surgery isn’t recommended for this condition because it can increase the risk of scar tissue formation.He says intermittent discomfort should be taken seriously as well. “There might be a pattern, such as discomfort related to excitement, emotional upset, or exertion. For example, if you experience it when you’re gardening, but it goes away when you sit down, that’s angina. It’s usually worse in cold or hot weather.”
“A woman’s discomfort signs can be more subtle,” says Cohen, who is director of preventive cardiology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. “Heart disease can masquerade as GI symptoms, such as bloating, GI distress, or discomfort in the abdomen. It’s also associated with feeling tired. Risk for heart disease increases dramatically after menopause. It kills more women than men even though men are at higher risk at any age. Women and their physicians need to be on their toes.”
No. 3: Pain in Lower Back or Between Shoulder Blades
“Most often it’s arthritis,” says Brangman, who is professor and chief of geriatrics at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, N.Y. Other possibilities include a heart attack or abdominal problems. “One danger is aortic dissection, which can appear as either a nagging or sudden pain. People who are at risk have conditions that can change the integrity of the vessel wall. These would include high blood pressure, a history of circulation problems, smoking, and diabetes.”
No. 4: Severe Abdominal Pain
Still have your appendix? Don’t flirt with the possibility of a rupture. Gallbladder and pancreas problems, stomachulcers, and intestinal blockages are some other possible causes of abdominal pain that need attention.
No 5: Calf Pain
One of the lesser known dangers is deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot that can occur in the leg’s deep veins. It affects 2 million Americans a year, and it can be life-threatening. “The danger is that a piece of the clot could break loose and cause pulmonary embolism[a clot in the lungs], which could be fatal,” says Fryhofer. Cancer, obesity, immobility due to prolonged bed rest or long-distance travel, pregnancy, and advanced age are among the risk factors.
“Sometimes there’s just swelling without pain,” says Brangman. “If you have swelling and pain in your calf muscles, see a doctor immediately.”6: Burning Feet or Legs
Nearly one-quarter of the27 millionAmericans who have diabetes are undiagnosed, according to the American Diabetes Association. “In some people who don’t know they have diabetes, peripheral neuropathycould be one of the first signs,” says Brangman. “It’s a burning or pins-and-needles sensation in the feet or legs that can indicate nerve damage.”
No 7: Vague, Combined, or Medically Unexplained Pains
“Various painful, physical symptoms are common in depression,” says psychiatrist Thomas Wise, MD. “Patients will have vague complaints of headaches, abdominal pain, or limb pain, sometimes in combination.”
Because the pain might be chronic and not terribly debilitating, depressed people, their families, and health care professionals might dismiss the symptoms. “Furthermore, the more depressed you are, the more difficulty you have describing your feelings,” says Wise, who is the psychiatry department chairman at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Fairfax, Va. “All of this can lead the clinician astray.”
Other symptoms must be present before a diagnosis of depression can be made. “Get help when you’ve lost interest in activities, you’re unable to work or think effectively, and you can’t get along with people,” he says. “And don’t suffer silently when you’re hurting.”