Back Pain & Leg Pain – Is There A Link?
Worried about your leg pain? Wondering if it could be related to your back pain? Let us understand if there is a link between back pain & leg pain.
Back pain and leg pain, both complaints, are very commonly experienced by people. But when you have both back pain and leg pain, you may wonder if there is a link between the two. This article aims at finding the possible connection between back pain and leg pain.
Back pain & Leg Pain – Is There A Link?
While back pain can be stand-alone symptom, it can also be associated with many other complaints. Similarly, leg pain can be due to various reasons but surprisingly it can also be related to something that is not a leg problem in itself. Let us understand more about back pain and leg pain and if there is a link between the two.
Our body is connected with bones, soft tissues, mainly muscles, ligaments and most importantly nervous system. When there is a problem in a joint, muscle, nerve or any tissue, the nearby areas and those that are connected to it in some way or the other, get affected. Pain is basically a symptom of something disturbing going on in the body. It can be a result of injury, medical condition, part of treatment like surgery or anything similar to it.
Back pain & leg pain, both can occur in such conditions, however, whether they are linked or not depends on the symptoms and the underlying cause. However, if you are wondering if there is a link between back pain & leg pain – the answer is yes! There is a possibility that both back and leg pain can be linked to each other.(1)
Back Pain & Leg Pain
Causes of back pain mainly include weak muscles, poor posture, back strains, injuries, degenerative changes, intervertebral disc problems, infections or medical problems. While considering if there is a link between back pain & leg pain, it is important to know that leg and foot problems too can cause back pain, if the posture and gait is not maintained.
Causes of back pain due to leg problems are:
Leg Pain - Weakness of leg muscles, leg pain due to knee or ankle joint problems, injuries, improper rehabilitation after surgeries or sports injuries, can result in inappropriate gait. Leg pain and prolonged gait changes invariably stretch the hip and back muscles, which can cause back pain. In such cases, back pain is a noticeable symptom but the cause mainly lies in the legs.
Foot Deformities - When a person has a defect in the leg, foot deformities, ankle pain, heel spurs or any such problems that causes pain in the foot, it can also affect the gait. Improper gait, limping or walking with an incorrect placing of legs can cause strain on the back muscles, causing back pain.
Similarly, causes of leg pain include injuries, sprains, arthritis, joint problems, medical conditions and also include back or hip pain and conditions related to it.
One of the main reasons why there is a link between back pain and leg pain is that they are connected with bones and soft tissue including nerves. Moreover, the spinal column in the back comprises nerve bundles that reaches the whole body. The nerves that come out from the upper back, supply the upper body or arms and hands, while nerves leaving the lower back supply the hips and legs. Nerves are mainly responsible for carrying signals and sensations including pain.
Causes of leg pain related to the back are:
Nerve Compression - Thus, if there is a problem in the lower back, such that it affects the nerves, the pain can travel along the nerve path and can include all the areas supplied by that nerve. This is medically termed radiculopathy, which means nerve compression at the nerve root in the low back causing pain in the leg as the nerve reaches there and pain travels along its course.
Sciatica - The commonest condition related to nerve involvement is sciatica. Sciatic nerve originates from the lower back, travels through the hips, from behind the thighs and down the leg.(2) The nerve can get compressed at the back, due to intervertebral disc bulge, any back problem, or even at the hips due to muscle spasms.
Back Deformities – Back problems, spinal cord defects and deformities of the back like kyphosis or scoliosis, can cause stretching of muscles, gait issues and leg pain. This is another way in which back pain is linked to leg pain. It can particularly cause pain in back of the hips, thighs and calf muscles. Such conditions can eventually even lead to early joint degeneration and cause chronic leg pain.
Back Pain & Leg Pain – Symptoms
Leg pain that is linked to back pain presents with pain in the back and hips on movement of the back, bending forward or backward and even after sitting for long. Nerve compression that is a major link between back pain and leg pain, presents with symptoms related to it. These include sharp, shooting pain in the legs with a burning sensation. It may also cause numbness and tingling sensation along the nerve path or in the legs and feet.
Most of the times, one side of the body is affected, leading to leg pain either on the left or right side. It is caused due to compression of nerve on one side, however sometimes, if nerve roots on both sides are involved, it can cause leg pain on both sides. Leg pain due to back pain is often worse on moving the back, lifting weight or bending. Numbness in the hips and legs may be felt after sitting for long in some people.
Some may experience difficulty in moving the legs, weakness in the hips and legs. As the nerves causing back pain & leg pain also control other functions, in extreme conditions, severe nerve damage can also cause loss of bowel and bladder functions. This often needs immediate medical attention to preserve important functions.
Back Pain & Leg Pain – Diagnosis & Treatment
Many a times, a problem in the back, more commonly disc bulge or disc herniation may initially present itself with only leg pain and nerve symptoms. However, with appropriate history taking, clinical examination and relevant investigations, the cause of leg pain linked to back pain can be identified.
Blood tests and imaging studies like X-ray, MRI and CT scan can detect infections, injuries, spinal or nerve involvement and medical problems. More advanced tests and nerve studies may be done, if appropriate. Treatment mainly depends on the cause and often includes the use of muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory medicines. Icing, warm compress and physical therapy can help in most cases. Severe cases or those that do not respond to medical treatment, may be considered for surgical treatment for back pain &leg pain.
Thus, it can be concluded that on considering back & leg pain – there is a link! Being aware of the signs and symptoms and possible causes can help you understand the condition better. Seeking timely medical advice for early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can help in better recovery and also prevent complications.
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