Nerve Pain in the Leg
By Grant Cooper, MD
Nerves in the leg may become inflamed, compressed, or degenerated as a result of mechanical or chemical irritants. Nerves may also become damaged due to associated conditions such as diabetes or nutritional deficiencies. Depending on the cause of nerve damage, the specific leg symptoms may differ.
Nerve pain is typically described as sharp, shooting, electric-like, or searing pain. It may also produce a sensation of hot or warm water running down the thigh and/or leg. In some individuals, a dull ache may occur. The pain may be intermittent or constant.
The most common types of nerve pain in the leg are described below.
Sciatica is radicular nerve pain that occurs when the sciatic nerve roots in the lower back are irritated or compressed.
The medical term for leg pain that originates from a problem in the nerve roots of the lumbar and/or sacral spine is radiculopathy (the lay term is sciatica). This pain may be caused when the nerve roots are inflamed, irritated, or compressed. The characteristics of this pain depend on the specific nerve root(s) affected.
Research indicates 95% of radiculopathy in the lumbosacral spine occurs at the L4-L5 and L5-S1 levels. The pain from these nerve roots is characterized by:
Pain that originates in the lower back or buttock and travels down the thigh, calf, and foot.
Numbness in the calf, foot, and/or toes.
Weakness in the hip, thigh, and/or foot muscles.
Depending on the individual, additional sensations may occur, such as a feeling of pins-and-needles in the leg, warm water running down the thigh, or the foot immersed in hot water. Radiculopathy typically affects one leg.
Damage to one or more nerves in the peripheral nervous system (outside the brain and spinal cord) is called peripheral neuropathy. This form of neuropathy in the leg most commonly occurs due to diabetes.
Pain that originates in the toes and gradually spreads toward the knee (also called stocking-glove pattern; the action of putting on a stocking)
Numbness in the legs and feet
Weakness in the toes and ankles during the later stages of the condition
Peripheral neuropathy pain typically affects both legs.
Lumbosacral Radiculoplexus Neuropathy
This condition occurs due to inflammation of small blood vessels in the legs leading to reduced blood supply to the nerves, resulting in nerve damage. This condition is commonly seen in diabetic individuals and may also be caused by other issues. Common symptoms include:
Pain that usually begins in a specific location, such as the buttock, hip, thigh, leg, or foot and gradually spreads to other areas of the leg
Numbness and a prickling feeling in the affected areas
Weakness in the leg muscles
Loss of balance, which may cause falls.
Typically, several nerves are affected together. The condition may develop in one leg and over time involve both legs.
Compression of the peroneal nerve near the knee may cause symptoms in the leg. Typical symptoms include:
Foot drop, characterized by the inability to lift the foot, or a catch in the toes while walking
Numbness along the side of the leg, the upper part of the foot, and/or the first toe web space
Pain is not a typical feature of this condition but may be present when peroneal neuropathy occurs as a result of trauma.
Compression of the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve in the thigh may cause a condition called meralgia paresthetica. Symptoms typically include:
Burning or achy pain in the outer side and/or front of the thigh
Coldness in the affected areas
Buzzing or vibrations (such as from a cell phone) in the thigh region
Meralgia paresthetica pain typically increases while standing or walking and alleviates while sitting.
Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome
Dysfunction of the tibial nerve due to nerve compression within the foot’s tarsal tunnel causes this syndrome. Common symptoms include:
Sharp, shooting pain in the inner ankle joint and along the sole of the foot
Numbness in the sole of the foot
Tingling and/or burning sensation in the foot
The symptoms typically worsen at night, with walking or standing, and/or after physical activity; and get better with rest.
This type of leg pain occurs due to narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis) causing compression of the spinal cord. This compression may occur due to bone spurs (abnormal bone growth), lumbar disc herniation, or spondylolisthesis (forward slippage of a vertebra).
The symptoms of neurogenic claudication typically occur in both legs and include:
Pain and numbness while walking, standing, or performing upright exercises
Weakness during leg movements
Neurogenic claudication pain typically increases while bending the spine backward and decreases while bending forward at the waist, sitting, or lying down.
A qualified medical professional can help diagnose the exact cause of nerve pain in the leg based on the type of presenting symptoms, medical history, and by performing certain clinical tests.
Article Provided By: spine-helath.com
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