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Nerve pain in leg

Updated on March 6, 2014

Nerve pain in leg is a common symptom of a condition known as sciatica.

Sciatica is a term used to describe the pain that extends along the sciatic nerve’s path, which distributes from the lower back via the buttocks and hips and downwards each leg. Nerve pain in leg usually affects just one side of the body.

Nerve pain in leg typically occurs when a spinal bone spur or a herniated disc puts pressure on a part of the sciatic nerve. This leads to pain, inflammation, and some numbness in the leg that is affected.

Sciatica-associated nerve pain in leg can be very intense. However, most cases get resolved within a few weeks with traditional treatments. Patients who continue to suffer from extreme nerve pain in leg after 6 weeks of medical treatment may need to undergo surgery to alleviate the compressed nerve.

Symptoms of sciatica/nerve pain in leg

Some of the signs and symptoms that accompany nerve pain in leg are listed below:

  • Pain that extends from the lumbar or lower spine to the hips and buttocks, and across the back part of your leg is a classical symptom of sciatica-related nerve pain in leg.

  • The pain may vary widely, from being a minor ache to being a burning, sharp sensation or intense, unbearable discomfort. It may occasionally feel like an electric shock or a jolt.

  • Patients may experience discomfort just about anywhere along the path of the sciatic nerve, but it is more likely to take a path that commences from the lower back to the buttocks and down the back of the thigh and calf.

  • The pain may aggravate when a patient sneezes or coughs. It can also get worse after being seated for prolonged periods.

  • Some patients may also suffer from muscle weakness, numbness, or tingling in the affected foot or leg. It is also possible for patients to experience numbness in one area of the leg and pain in some other part.

  • In most cases, just one side of the body experiences the sciatica-associated nerve pain in leg.

Most patients tend to fully recover from sciatica-associated nerve pain in leg, usually without any explicit treatment. However, it can lead to permanent nerve damage in other patients. It is therefore vital to immediately consult a doctor in the following cases:

  • The affected leg experiences weakness

  • The affected leg experiences loss of feeling

  • Loss of bladder or bowel functionality

Causes of sciatica/nerve pain in leg

Sciatica-related nerve pain in leg typically occurs due to compression of the sciatic nerve, most often due to a bone overgrowth on the vertebrae or a herniated disc in the spine. In rare cases, a tumor may cause the nerve to become pinched, or it may experience damage due to a disease like diabetes.

Some risk factors which can increase the vulnerability to developing sciatica-related nerve pain in leg are as follows:

  • Excess body weight or obesity can increase the overall pressure on the spine leading to spinal changes and eventually triggering sciatica.

  • Bone spurs and herniated disc which are the most common causes of sciatica-associated nerve pain in leg typically arise due to spinal changes that occur with an increasing age.

  • Occupations that entail driving a motor vehicle for prolonged periods, carrying heavy loads, or twisting your back. However, there is no empirical evidence to support this theory.

  • Underlying presence of diabetes

  • Sedentary lifestyles or prolonged sitting

Treatment of sciatica/nerve pain in leg

Most instances of sciatica-related nerve pain in leg get resolved with self-care measures. If it persists, then the doctor may go for the below listed treatment options:

  • Medications such as muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory drugs, tricyclic antidepressants, narcotics, and anti-seizure medications to alleviate the pain.

  • Steroid injections: Sometimes, the doctor may go for corticosteroid injections to suppress the inflammation near the irritated nerve and decrease the nerve pain in leg. Steroid injections can have serious side effects and hence it is used for a very limited time period.

  • Physical therapy: After improvement of the acute pain, the doctor may come up with a rehabilitation plan to help prevent recurrent injuries. It can include exercises to improve flexibility, strengthen the muscles that support the back, and correct the posture.

  • Surgery: Doctors usually opt for surgical intervention if the condition does not improve with traditional therapies, or when the pain is progressively worsening, or if the compressed nerve causes bladder or bowel incontinence or considerable weakness. The surgeon may remove a section of the herniated disc or the bone spur that’s exerting pressure on the pinched nerve.

Self-care measures for improving sciatica-related nerve pain in leg include the following:

  • Going about the usual daily activities, but avoiding the causes that triggered the pain.

  • Resting for some time, but avoiding prolonged inactivity.

  • Cold packs to be used initially to get relief from the pain. Later, use hot packs on the areas that still hurt. You may also alternate between the two packs.

  • Intake of OTC pain killers.

  • Stretching exercises for the lower back. Do not twist, jerk, or bounce during the stretch, and try and maintain the stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds.

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