How Your Feet Can Cause Leg And Back Pain
HOW YOUR FEET CAN CAUSE LEG & BACK PAINBy Bethesda, MD & Springfield, VA Foot Specialist, Dr. Paul Ross of The Podiatry CenterProblems with your feet can affect your entire body, from your legs to your back, your neck, and even your shoulders. The entire human body is connected, which is why one affliction can easily affect a seemingly unrelated part of the body.
Oftentimes, pain and discomfort dont directly relate to flat feet, but rather to how flat feet affect your gait . Some people have one leg thats shorter than the other this would affect their gait and affect their feet and spine. That can affect their ribs, internal organ locations, and how their bones are structured all over their bodies.
The way you walk is dependent on the shape of your feet and the shoes you wear. These factors can affect your entire body over the years. For example, if you wear unsupportive high heels every day, your feet become susceptible to hammertoes, bunions, calluses, and corns. The rest of your body may develop joint problems, back problems, stiffness, fatigue, and strain.
Wearing supportive shoes distributes weight evenly when you land and encourages a stable gait. People with flat feet often walk on the sides of their feet or have balance issues, so its essential to wear supportive shoes.
How Feet Affect The Legs
Some milder problems include:
Prolonged or continuous strain can cause permanent problems.
Feet and Back Pain
The Easiest Solution: Orthotics
Consult A Spine Specialist
If you suspect that your foot pain may be referred pain originating from a condition in your lower back, a specialist should be contacted. At New Jersey Neck & Back Institute , Spine specialist Sandro LaRocca is our board certified, fellowship-trained orthopaedic surgeon with years of experience and expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of spine disorders.
For more information or to schedule an appointment with Dr. LaRocca, contact NJNBI today or fill out our contact form.
How Is Sciatica Diagnosed
First, your healthcare provider will review your medical history. Next, theyll ask about your symptoms.
During your physical exam, you will be asked to walk so your healthcare provider can see how your spine carries your weight. You may be asked to walk on your toes and heels to check the strength of your calf muscles. Your provider may also do a straight leg raise test. For this test, youll lie on your back with your legs straight. Your provider will slowly raise each leg and note the point at which your pain begins. This test helps pinpoint the affected nerves and determines if there is a problem with one of your disks. You will also be asked to do other stretches and motions to pinpoint pain and check muscle flexibility and strength.
Depending on what your healthcare provider discovers during your physical exam, imaging and other tests might be done. These may include:
- Spinal X-rays to look for spinal fractures, disk problems, infections, tumors and bone spurs.
- Magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography scans to see detailed images of bone and soft tissues of the back. An MRI can show pressure on a nerve, disk herniation and any arthritic condition that might be pressing on a nerve. MRIs are usually ordered to confirm the diagnosis of sciatica.
- Nerve conduction velocity studies/electromyography to examine how well electrical impulses travel through the sciatic nerve and the response of muscles.
- Myelogram to determine if a vertebrae or disk is causing the pain.
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Types Of Leg Pain That Are Actually Caused By A Back Problem
No doubt about it, your legs endure a lot of stress throughout your life, leading to a general wear and tear that may result in pain. However, not all sources of leg pain are caused by issues related to the joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, or cartilage that make up your lower extremities.
Its possible that the electric shock sensation you feel shooting down your leg every time you reposition your body is due to a back problem. At Texas Spine Consultants in Addison and Plano, Texas, our orthopedic surgeons specialize in spine health and help many people get relief from their leg pain by treating the underlying back problem responsible for the traveling pain sensations.
To save you from unnecessary testing and treatment of your legs, we want to share with you the types of leg pain that are actually caused by a back problem.
Getting Pain We Can Help
If youre experiencing pain in your feet and are worried that its a nerve compression or other problem that originates in your back or somewhere else, we can help. Our experienced podiatry team will work to assess, diagnose and help treat the problem to alleviate your symptoms, and reduce the likelihood of it returning.
Where necessary, well refer you for imaging and involve other health professions to ensure you get the best long-term result.
Book your appointment online by here or calling us on
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How Is Sciatica Treated
The goal of treatment is to decrease your pain and increase your mobility. Depending on the cause, many cases of sciatica go away over time with some simple self-care treatments.
Self-care treatments include:
- Appling ice and/or hot packs: First, use ice packs to reduce pain and swelling. Apply ice packs or bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel to the affected area. Apply for 20 minutes, several times a day. Switch to a hot pack or a heating pad after the first several days. Apply for 20 minutes at a time. If youre still in pain, switch between hot and cold packs whichever best relieves your discomfort.
- Taking over-the-counter medicines: Take medicines to reduce pain, inflammation and swelling. The many common over-the-counter medicines in this category, called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs , include aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen . Be watchful if you choose to take aspirin. Aspirin can cause ulcers and bleeding in some people. If youre unable to take NSAIDS, acetaminophen may be taken instead.
- Performing gentle stretches: Learn proper stretches from an instructor with experience with low back pain. Work up to other general strengthening, core muscle strengthening and aerobic exercises.
Are Restless Leg Syndrome Multiple Sclerosis Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Plantar Fasciitis Shingles Or Bursitis Related To Sciatica
While all these conditions affect either the spinal cord, nerves, muscles, ligaments or joints and all can cause pain, none are directly related to sciatica. The main causes of these conditions are different. Sciatica only involves the sciatic nerve. That being said, the most similar condition would be carpal tunnel syndrome, which also involves a compression of a nerve.
A final word about sciatica. . . .
Most cases of sciatica do not require surgery. Time and self-care treatment are usually all thats needed. However, if simple self-care treatments do not relieve your pain, see your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider can confirm the cause of your pain, suggest other treatment options and/or refer you to other spine health specialists if needed.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/25/2020.
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Determining The Source Of Your Foot Pain
With all the possible causes of nerve pain in your foot, how can you determine if your foot pain is provoked by an underlying lumbar spine problem? The primary indication as to whether your foot pain is caused by a problem with your spine is if you are also experiencing leg pain. Telltale signs can also include:
- Difficulty bringing your foot up or walking on your tip-toes.
- Foot heaviness or weakness commonly referred to as foot drop.
It is also more common for foot pain related to a lumbar spine problem to present only on one side of the body. If both feet are affected, it is less likely sciatica, but spine-related conditions such as lumbar spinal stenosis or spondylolisthesis can lead to symptoms in both legs.
How Can Sciatica Cause Foot Pain
Foot pain from sciatic nerve irritation is very common, says David W. Flatt, DC, FACO, a board-certified chiropractic orthopedist at Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group in Winfield, Illinois. It is most common to have pain on the outside of the foot but it could be in other places in the foot, too.
Sciatica is not a specific diagnosis, but a broad term that describes nerve pain. One or more of the sciatic nerves root in the lower spine is being compressed or pinched, usually due to a.
This sciatic nerve originates in the lower back from five nerve roots and ultimately splits to run down both the inside and outside of the leg. Compression or irritation to any of the nerve roots can cause pain in the hip, thigh, calf, and foot, says Flatt.
The location of the foot pain depends upon which nerve root in the spine is affected. If the S1 root is affected, pain will radiate to the sole and lateral foot, says Nicholas Anastasio, MD, a board-certified physician at Orthopedics and Joint Replacement at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. If L5 is affected, pain will radiate to the top of the foot and great toe. If the L4 root is affected, pain can radiate to the medial ankle.
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How Could Your Spine Problem Cause Foot Pain
You can travel through your legs and end in your feet with a series of spinal nerves. When these spinal nerves irritate or pull up the nerve roots , there can be foot pain. There may also be foot pain when your nerve is compressed in the vicinity of your hip, knee, or foot. You must consult the pain management doctors to get relief from pain.
Treatments For Swelling In Legs And Feet
Swelling in the legs and feet can result from a variety of different causes so treatment will vary. Treating any underlying condition is necessary first before attempting other treatments, which include:
- Wearing compression stockings to help improve circulation from the legs back to the heart
- Elevating your feet above the level of your heart after prolonged sitting or standing
- Regular exercise involving the legs to promote improved blood flow
- Increasing fluid intake and decreasing sodium intake
- Diuretic medication to help get rid of excess fluid retention
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Foot Pain Caused By A Spinal Problem
Nerve root irritation or compression in the lumbar or sacral spine may cause sciatica pain to radiate down your leg and into the foot.1 Specifically, compression of the S1 nerve root, also called classic sciatica, can cause pain along the outer side of your foot.2
Nerve roots may be compressed or irritated due to a number of causes. Common examples include3:
- Lumbar herniated disc: Leaking of the inner contents of an intervertebral disc
- Lumbar degenerative disc disease: Age-related changes causing narrowing and shrinkage of the disc
- Spondylolisthesis: Slipping of a vertebra over the one below it
- Lumbar spinal stenosis: Narrowing of the bony openings for spinal nerves and/or the spinal cord
The inability to lift the front part of your foot or frequent tripping while walking may be due to a condition called foot drop. This condition is typically caused due to compression of the L5 nerve root. Rarely, compression of the L4 and/or S1 nerve roots may also cause foot drop.4
Is Your Heel Pain From Sciatica
A well-documented cause of heel pain that starts in the back is from sciatica. Sciatica refers to the compression of the sciatic nerve which starts in your lower back. Damage or irritation can radiate symptoms all the way down to the feet, through the hips, buttocks and legs.
If you have sciatica, you may also notice tingling, numbness, burning around your heel. The pain may be dull or achy, or may shoot up the leg depending on the way you stand. You may also notice slower reflexes or muscle spasms.
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How To Treat Foot And Ankle Pain Caused By Sciatica
There are many treatments for sciatica, but they fall into two categories: non-operative treatment and surgical treatment.
Non-operative treatments for sciatica include Physical Therapy , medications like non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs or opioids, injections, and rest. These treatments are often successful, but you may need to continue with them over some time before your symptoms fully resolve.
As experienced Physical Therapists with a long history of helping patients resolve sciatica and foot and ankle pain without dangerous surgery, we consider surgical treatments an absolute last resort. With sciatica, there are two main options for surgical intervention:
- Microdiscectomy: This surgery specifically relates to disc herniation. During the surgery, the damaged disc is either partially or entirely removed to relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve. Your surgeon may also need to remove a small piece of bone.
- Laminectomy: During this surgery, your surgeon removes the lamina the arched part of your spinal bones to make space for your sciatic nerves, or other associated nerves, to pass through without compression or restriction.
We only recommend surgery in very rare cases when patients do not respond to non-operative treatment. These patients continue to have significant leg numbness, pain, weakness, and sensory dysfunction even after physical therapy, rest, and medication.
How Your Feet Could Be Causing Your Back Pain
So, what is causing your feet to affect your back and give you such chronic pain?
The most common reason for back pain due to a foot issue is a collapsed arch, more commonly known as flat feet. Fallen arches are actually quite common in adults aged 40 or older and more common in women than in men. Mayo Clinic
Back pain is the leading cause of disability for Americans under the age of 45. Studies show that 80% of adults in America will experience low back pain at some point in their lives.
The causes of back pain are as varied as the types of symptoms you may experience.
Symptoms can be a result of
- poor muscle tone
- degenerative arthritis
- nerve or disc problems
Low back pain can be a result of an acute injury, but many times back problems develop over a long period of time.
Factors such as age, occupation, poor posture and overall fitness all play a role.
The body needs a sound support structure with core strength to carry weight and perform normal activities. When this support structure is weakened, the body must work harder to keep the feet, knees, hips and low back functioning properly.
Over time, this can lead to back problems.
When it comes to the mechanics of how your feet can be affecting your back, know that all the joints in the lower limbs are closely connected and affect one another.
When the arches of your feet collapse, it triggers a series of compensations up the joint chain which creates a leg length discrepancy and alters posture all the way up.
Low Back Conditions That May Result In Foot Pain
Sciatica is typically the cause when the lower back is the source of our foot pain. Sciatica is a condition in which the sciatic nerve or one of the associated nerves is impinged or compressed. The pressure on the nerve results in pain radiating from the lower back to the leg and foot . Lower back conditions that may cause sciatica include:
Herniated lumbar disc: Spinal discs are cushions between the vertebrae that give the spine its flexibility and stability. A disc herniation occurs when the soft center of the disc leaks out of a crack of the tough outer exterior and puts pressure on the nerves in the lower back.
Lumbar spinal stenosis: With lumbar stenosis, the spinal nerves in the lower back are compressed due to a narrowing of the canal in the spine housing, placing pressure on the spinal cord and cauda equine.
Spondylolisthesis: Symptoms of spondyloisthesis appear when one of the vertebrae of the spine slides out of place.
Common Foot Pain Symptoms Related To The Lower Back
Depending on the lower back diagnosis, specific types of foot pain symptoms and other symptoms may include:
- Restricted ability to bring the foot up . This specific symptom is characterized by an inability to bring the foot upward and may be accompanied by numbness in the middle lower leg and foot. Heel walk may occur if one of the spinal nerve roots in the lower back that innervates the sciatic nerve is affected.
- Foot heaviness or weakness . Often originating from a spinal nerve root in the lower back, foot drop refers to a weak or heavy feeling that makes it difficult or impossible to flex the ankle and bring the front of the foot up. Foot drop due to a L5 nerve root problem will usually also produce pain that radiates down the outside of the calf and over the top of the foot to the big toe.
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Nerve Pain And Numbness In The Feet Could Be Coming From Your Back Even If You Dont Have Back Pain
We depend on our feet every day, but we dont really give them much thought until they are bothering us. Many individuals can feel chronic pain in their legs, on the bottoms or tops of their feet, in their calves, or along their thighs. They may also similarly feel odd tingling, numbness, or shooting sensations in these areas. The symptoms may be accompanied by stiffness, muscle weakness, or sometimes difficulty walking and moving around.
There are many possible causes of these symptoms, including a condition known as neuropathy, which is common in individuals with diabetes, a heart condition, or metabolic syndrome.
However, the pain, numbness, and tingling could also be related to nerve compression in the lower back. These are the same conditions that frequently cause lower back pain, stiffness, and limited mobility in 16 million Americans. Yet, you dont have to actively have lower back pain to feel the effects on your feet!
If you are experiencing odd sensations in your legs, feet, or extremities in general, then investigating the health of your lower back could be a good place to start. You can book an appointment with a podiatrist near you to evaluate your condition and get started on the most appropriate treatment.
Read on for more information about foot pain/nerve sensations and their possible relationship to your lower back.