What Does It Mean If Lower Back Pain Is Shooting Into Legs
Lower back pain can radiate to other parts of the body: up or down from its place of origin. Sometimes lower back pain can be on one side of the back, which is also normal.
If the pain is shooting from the lower back into one or both legs, it could be sciatica , but its not always the case. There are many parts in the lower back that may cause the pain to radiate into the legs, such as facet joints, sacroiliac joints, muscles or inflammation of the bursa.
Finding Lower Back Pain Relief
Nearly everyone will experience some form of back pain in his or her lifetime. The low back is the area behind the belly from the rib cage to the pelvis and is also called the lumbar region. Back pain is a major cause of missed work. Low back pain usually resolves on its own and is commonly the result of a strain injury. There are many treatments for low back pain.
At Risk for Lower Back Pain?
Low back pain can start in a person’s early twenties and continue on throughout adulthood. Studies have shown that up to 80% of the general population are affected by low back pain at some time during their lives. Learn to prevent lower back pain by knowing what activities could be putting you at risk.
Common Causes of Low Back Pain
- Manual materials handling
- Twisting of the trunk
- Bending the trunk to the side
- Excessive reaching
- Extreme tallness
Why You Might Need A Spinal Mri
Youll get one if you have trouble breathing or coughing after an injury to your spine — this is an emergency situation.
The MRI also lets your doctor examine the small bones, called vertebrae, which make up your spinal column, as well as the spinal disks, spinal canal, and spinal cord. The test looks for:
Stiffness in your lower back area that restricts range of motion
You cant maintain a normal posture because of stiffness and/or pain
Muscle spasms during activity or inactivity
Pain that lasts for 10-14 days
Loss of motor function in feet — you cant tiptoe or you do a heel walk
Loss of control of your bladder or bowels
Numbness or tingling in hands, fingers, feet or toes
Weakness or paralysis in any part of your body
Difficulty walking and keeping your balance
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What Causes Lower Back Pain
Many injuries, conditions and diseases can cause lower back pain. They include:
- Strains and sprains: Back strains and sprains are the most common cause of back pain. You can injure muscles, tendons or ligaments by lifting something too heavy or not lifting safely. Some people strain their back by sneezing, coughing, twisting or bending over.
- Fractures: The bones in the spine can break during an accident, like a car crash or a fall. Certain conditions increase the risk of fractures.
- Disk problems: Disks cushion the vertebrae . Disks can bulge from their position in the spine and press on a nerve. They can also tear . With age, disks can get flatter and offer less protection .
- Structural problems: A condition called spinal stenosis happens when the spinal column is too narrow for the spinal cord. Something pinching the spinal cord can cause severe sciatic nerve pain and lower back pain. Scoliosis can lead to pain, stiffness and difficulty moving.
- Arthritis: Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis to cause lower back pain. Ankylosing spondylitis causes lower back pain, inflammation and stiffness in the spine.
- Disease:Spine tumors, infections and several types of cancer can cause back pain. Other conditions can cause back pain, too. These include kidney stones and abdominal aortic aneurysm.
- Spondylolisthesis: This condition causes the vertebrae in the spine to slip out of place. Spondylolisthesis leads to low back pain and often leg pain as well.
How Common Is Lower Back Pain
Around four out of five people have lower back pain at some point in their lives. Its one of the most common reasons people visit healthcare providers.
Some people are more likely to have lower back pain than others. Risk factors for lower back pain include:
- Age: People over 30 have more back pain. Disks wear away with age. As the disks weaken and wear down, pain and stiffness can result.
- Weight: People who are obese or carry extra weight are more likely to have back pain. Excess weight puts pressure on joints and disks.
- Overall health: Weakened abdominal muscles cant support the spine, which can lead to back strains and sprains. People who smoke, drink alcohol excessively or live a sedentary lifestyle have a higher risk of back pain.
- Occupation and lifestyle: Jobs and activities that require heavy lifting or bending can increase the risk of a back injury.
- Structural problems: Severe back pain can result from conditions, such as scoliosis, that change spine alignment.
- Disease: People who have a family history of osteoarthritis, certain types of cancer and other disease have a higher risk of low back pain.
- Mental health: Back pain can result from depression and anxiety.
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L: Emotions Acceptance And Ancestral Support As A Spiritual Source Of Lower Back Pain
Moving up the spine, L4 is the seat of emotion, especially grief. It’s also your center for creativity, how you hold joy with your family, community, and world around you.
For people who grew up with the belief that it was not okay to express strong emotion, specifically around loss and tragedy, pain will often show up here. Likewise, if celebrations were not honored, or there was not a true outlet for expressing joy and connection, this part of the lower back can cause problems.
L3 is about acceptance from our family. People who donât feel accepted for their choice of a partner or for their sexual orientation may develop pain in this area of the low back. According to Naluai, pain here also represents ânot having familial support towards the decisions that you make and how that lineage conversation affects your attitudes towards communities. It’s about interrelationships that can be from the past, present, and future in your understanding.â
What Is The Anatomy Of The Low Back
To understand various causes of low back pain, it is important to appreciate the normal design of the tissues of this area of the body. Important structures of the low back that can be related to symptoms in this region include the bony lumbar spine , discs between the vertebrae, ligaments around the spine and discs, spinal cord and nerves, muscles of the low back, internal organs of the pelvis and abdomen, and the skin covering the lumbar area.
The bony lumbar spine is designed so that vertebrae “stacked” together can provide a movable support structure while also protecting the spinal cord from injury. The spinal cord is composed of nervous tissue that extends down the spinal column from the brain. Each vertebra has a spinous process, a bony prominence behind the spinal cord, which shields the cord’s nervous tissue from impact trauma. Vertebrae also have a strong bony “body” in front of the spinal cord to provide a platform suitable for weight bearing of all tissues above the buttocks. The lumbar vertebrae stack immediately atop the sacrum bone that is situated in between the buttocks. On each side, the sacrum meets the iliac bone of the pelvis to form the sacroiliac joints of the buttocks.
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Chronic Conditions That Cause Back Pain
Conditions that can lead to chronic low back pain include spinal stenosis, spondylitis, and fibromyalgia. Spinal stenosis is narrowing of the normal spinal canal through which the spinal cord passes. Spondylitis is chronic inflammation of the spine. Fibromyalgia is a muscle disorder that features chronic muscle pain and tenderness.
Can I Prevent Lower Back Pain
You cant prevent lower back pain that results from disease or structural problems in the spine. But you can avoid injuries that cause back pain.
To reduce your risk of a back injury, you should:
- Maintain a healthy weight: Excess weight puts pressure on vertebrae and disks.
- Strengthen your abdominal muscles: Pilates and other exercise programs strengthen core muscles that support the spine.
- Lift the right way: To avoid injuries, lift with your legs . Hold heavy items close to your body. Try not to twist your torso while youre lifting.
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The Importance Of An Accurate Diagnosis
The physician will need to take a careful medical history and do a physical exam to look for certain red flags that indicate the need for an X-ray or other imaging test. In most cases, however, imaging such as X-ray, MRI , or CT scan is unnecessary.
There may also be certain clues in a patients medical history. Low back, nonradiating pain is commonly due to muscle strain and spasm. Pain that radiates into the buttock and down the leg may be due to , a condition in which a bulging disc presses on the sciatic nerve, which extends down the spinal column to its exit point in the pelvis and carries nerve fibers to the leg. This nerve compression causes pain in the lower back radiating through the buttocks and down one leg, which can go to below the knee, often combined with localized areas of numbness. In the most extreme cases, the patient experiences weakness in addition to numbness and pain, which suggests the need for quick evaluation.
A persistent shooting or tingling pain may suggest lumbar disc disease. A pain that comes and goes, reaching a peak and then quieting for a minute or two, only to reach a peak again, may suggest an altogether different cause of back pain, such as a kidney stone.
When tumor or infection are suspected, the doctor may order blood tests, including a CBC and sedimentation rate .
What Are The Risk Factors For Developing Low Back Pain
Anyone can have back pain. Factors that can increase the risk for low back pain include:
Age: The first attack of low back pain typically occurs between the ages of 30 and 50, and back pain becomes more common with advancing age. Loss of bone strength from osteoporosis can lead to fractures, and at the same time, muscle elasticity and tone decrease. The intervertebral discs begin to lose fluid and flexibility with age, which decreases their ability to cushion the vertebrae. The risk of spinal stenosis also increases with age.
Fitness level: Back pain is more common among people who are not physically fit. Weak back and abdominal muscles may not properly support the spine. Weekend warriorspeople who go out and exercise a lot after being inactive all weekare more likely to suffer painful back injuries than people who make moderate physical activity a daily habit. Studies show that low-impact aerobic exercise can help maintain the integrity of intervertebral discs.
Weight gain: Being overweight, obese, or quickly gaining significant amounts of weight can put stress on the back and lead to low back pain.
Genetics: Some causes of back pain, such as ankylosing spondylitis , have a genetic component.
Smoking: It can restrict blood flow and oxygen to the discs, causing them to degenerate faster.
Backpack overload in children: A backpack overloaded with schoolbooks and supplies can strain the back and cause muscle fatigue.
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Where Can I Get More Information
For more information on neurological disorders or research programs funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, contact the Institute’s Brain Resources and Information Network at:
Office of Communications and Public LiaisonNational Institute of Neurological Disorders and StrokeNational Institutes of HealthBethesda, MD 20892
NINDS health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or any other Federal agency. Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient’s medical history.
Common Causes Of Chronic Lower Back Pain
“Chronic lower back pain is less likely to be caused by injury to your muscles and ligaments and more likely to be due to issues with the lumbar disks, nerves, joints or vertebrae,” says Dr. Palmer. “There are several potential causes of chronic pain in the lower back.”
In general, osteoarthritis and degenerative disk disease are the underlying cause of many types of chronic lower back pain. However, lower back pain can also be caused by accident-related trauma and acute stress.
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Prevention Of Lower Back Pain
If you know how to look after your back, you can greatly reduce your risk of getting back pain. It can help to do the following.
- Exercise regularly walking, swimming or using an exercise bike are all things you can do even if your back feels a bit sore. Take time to build up your fitness if youre trying new activities.
- Use your legs to lift objects by bending your knees and hips, not your back.
- Keep a good posture if you work at a desk, make sure your chair, desk and computer screen are set up correctly. It will help if your employer assesses your work station.
- Move regularly dont sit in the same position for long periods of time.
Lower Back Pain And Cancer
Cancer involving the lumbar spine is not a common cause of back pain. However, in people who have a prior history of cancer, for example, in the breast or prostate, or who have weight loss or loss of appetite along with back pain cancer needs to be considered.
Night pain can be a clue to cancer in the spine. A benign tumor called osteoid osteoma, which most often affects young people, causes pain that tends to respond well to aspirin. Multiple myeloma is a malignancy that occurs when the plasma cells in the bone marrow begin spreading uncontrollably. It is most common in older people, and can cause pain in many parts of the spine. When tumor or infection are suspected, blood tests may be ordered, including a CBC , sedimentation rate , and protein electrophoresis .
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Should I See A Chiropractor For My Back Pain
Spinal manipulation is used by chiropractors and osteopathic physicians to treat low back pain in selected patients. Spinal manipulation applies hand pressure to areas of the low back to relax irritated muscle and lessen the intensity of the pain.
Traction, using pulleys and weights to lengthen and stretch the spine can result in temporary relief. Both techniques will not treat any underlying causes of back pain, but rather offer a temporary relief from lower back pain.
L: The Spiritual Meaning Of Low Back Pain And Digesting Life Experience
L3 is about digestion on all levels: digesting beliefs, digesting choices. The spiritual roots of back pain here wrap around to the front side. Naluai explains, âIf you were raised with a certain belief system that had been passed down for generations and then you veered off in your decision towards another system of beliefs, such as religion or career choice that created a break or separation with what your ancestors were doing or what are the rest of your family is doing, you might find a challenge in this area until you heal that break within yourself.â
âThis part of the spine,â she says, âhas to do with the digestion of these kinds of life choices. It is possible to heal the spiritual root of back pain in this area. There is a great deal of healing when they stand in their truth and power with regards to their own beliefs and choices. Sometimes that’s what ends up motivating a shift for the whole family. You can make a change with a choice for yourself that heals not just you, but something in your family line that needed to shift because that was a limited belief system or limiting pattern.â
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When To Contact A Doctor
Sometimes, people know the cause of their sharp lower back pain. For example, the pain may happen after they bend to pick something up or after an intense workout at the gym. In these cases, rest and home care may be enough to help the body heal.
However, there are some occasions when a person should contact a doctor, including:
- when the pain does not respond well to home treatments
- when pain that has no known cause lasts for longer than a couple of days
- when they experience tingling or weakness in the legs
People should take note of any symptoms as they appear to share with the doctor. The doctor will likely ask the person to describe their symptoms and how long they have persisted. They may also ask the person to do a series of movements to try to find the exact point of pain in the back and determine the underlying cause.
What Causes Lumbar Facetogenic Pain
Facetogenic as the name describes stems from the facet joints.2 As an individual gets older, the cartilage of the facet joints starts to degenerate causing the intervertebral discs to rub against each other. This constant rubbing of the intervertebral discs results in the development of osteophytes which in turn compresses the adjoining nerve roots resulting in Lumbar Facetogenic Pain.
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