Numbness In The Leg

Sensations of pain, discomfort or numbness in the legs, may be the result of any one of a number of different disorders or conditions.

Most of us will at some point in our lives experience mild discomfort in one or both legs, which will more than likely be the result of a minor disorder such as a soft tissue strain or tear. However, persistent symptoms in the either one of the legs may be an indication of an underlying disorder.

Nerve Related Disorders

Irritation, compression or any other change to a single or branch of nerves in the body is likely to cause physical symptoms ranging from chronic pain to numbness, pins and needles and tingling. There are various different conditions which may be responsible for provoking nerve related disorders and adverse symptoms in the legs.

Peripheral Neuropathy

The Peripheral Nerve System (PNS) is a network of nerves which carry messages to and from the Central Nervous System (CNS) – the brain and spine. Peripheral Neuropathy describes any particular disorder such as damage or disease which affects the sensory/and or motor nerves in the PNS, with manifestations more frequently occurring in the arms, legs, feet and hands. Typical symptoms may include, numbness and tingling sensations, pain and a marked increased sensitivity to pain.

Causes of Peripheral Neuropathy include the following:

  • Diabetes Neuropathy

This is one of the most common causes of Peripheral Neuropathy – a high percentage of individuals suffering from both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are likely to experience some form of neuropathy. Over time, high blood sugar levels damage the covering on the nerves or blood vessels which bring oxygen to the nerves, this may result in an interference of message transmission between the nerves.

  • Physical damage to the nerves from injury or during surgery
  • Infection and virus
    • HIV
    • Shingles
    • Lyme Disease
    • Diphtheria
    • Botulism
  • Vitamin B12 Deficiency
  • Guillain-Barré Syndrome
  • Alcoholism
  • Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease
  • Certain types of cancer
    • Multiple Myeloma
    • Lymphoma
  • An over-active immune system
    • Rheumatoid arthritis
    • Lupus
    • Sjogren’s Syndrome

Nerve Compression

Radiculopathy is the official medical term used to encompass a variety of medical problems relating to the compression or irritation of nerve roots exiting the spinal canal. Lumbar radiculopathy can produce referred symptoms radiating from the lower back into the legs. Nerve compression or irritation can be the result of various different causes.

Intervertebral Disc Related Problems

Between each vertebra in the spinal column is an intervertebral disc – formed of a tough fibrous outer portion with a soft gel like centre, the discs act as shock absorbers as well as preventing the vertebral bones from grinding against one another. General wear and tear, the ageing process or injury can cause disc herniation, bulging disc or disc degeneration. In the case of either one of the aforementioned, a crack or tear in the disc allows the soft centre to protrude and encroach on nearby soft tissue – in the case of a nerve root, it may cause irritation or compression to the nerve.

Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

Narrowing of the spinal canal in the lumbar region can lead to compression or irritation of the spinal cord itself, or to nearby nerve roots exiting the spinal column causing lower back pain, numbness and tingling in the legs and buttocks. Lumbar Spinal Stenosis is often the result of degenerative changes to the spinal structure or in some cases, tumour.

Lumbar Spondylolisthesis

This occurs when one of the spinal vertebrae slips out of place, compressing nearby soft tissue and in some cases nerve roots causing painful symptoms and in some cases numbness which may radiate to the legs.

Osteoarthritis

In this type of arthritis, the ageing process causes the breakdown of the protective cartilage of the joints in the spine, allowing the bones to come into contact with one another. This often results in swelling and inflammation. In response, the body tries to repair the damage by producing more bone which grows irregularly, often causing stiffness in the spine and in some cases irritation to nerve roots exiting the spinal cord.

Cauda Equina

A serious but rare condition occurring when a bunch of nerve endings, (the Cauda Equina) in the lower back becomes suddenly compressed causing a range of issues from lower back pain, loss of sensation and numbness in the legs and buttocks, loss of control of bowel and bladder movement and paralysis, which if left untreated, may become permanent.

Tumour

Growth of a tumour within the spinal region may compress nerve root endings or the actual spinal cord itself. Symptoms may vary depending on where the compression occurs, however compression of nerve roots in the lumbar region can cause numbness and pins and needles in the lower back.

Sciatica

Sciatica refers to irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve, the largest single nerve in the whole body, sciatica can cause symptoms of pain, numbness and tingling which may radiate from the lower back right through to the lower legs and in some cases the feet. Compression of the sciatic nerve can be caused by any one of the conditions above, discussed under nerve compression.

Meralgia Paraesthetica

Compression of the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve in the thigh may be a result of tight clothing, obesity, weight gain or pregnancy – possible symptoms include pain, pins and needles, numbness and loss of sensation in the legs.

Other Causes of Numbness in The Leg

Fibromyalgia

This complex chronic pain disorder can cause numerous symptoms and episodes of pain, numbness and tingling in all parts of the body including the legs. The exact cause of Fibromyalgia is unknown.

Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)

Arteries become narrowed due to a build-up of plaque, when this plaque hardens it starts to limit the blood and oxygen supply to the rest of the body – this can affect the legs and feet by causing numbness.

Treatment

Treatments will vary depending on the root cause of the particular disorder responsible for the numbness felt in the leg. In some cases, such as in the case of diabetes treatment, dramatic life style changes in relation to diet and exercise may be necessary alongside medication.

Other disorders may be treated with specific medication/treatment methods or even surgery in some cases. The symptoms of nerve pain may be treated with particular pain relief medications such as antidepressants or anticonvulsants, Capsaicin cream or Lidocaine plaster.

The Pain Management Clinic

Consisting of a multidisciplinary team of pain management consultants, physiotherapists, psychologists, surgeons and other health professionals, the Pain Management team provides patients with a fully comprehensive treatment plan. Get in touch today for more information.

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