Low Back Injuries Can Cause Sciatica, Restless Leg and Numbness in the Leg and Foot (Neuropathies)
Lumbar (lower back) injuries are the most common injury causes of low back pain. The back is prone to injury because of its weight-bearing function and its demands to move, twist and bend while bearing this weight. If muscle fibers are abnormally stretched or torn muscle strain is the result. When ligaments are torn from their attachments we have lumbar sprain. Many low back injuries can result from injury or from repetitive overuse.
When the lower back is strained or sprained the soft tissues become inflamed causing pain and possibly even muscle spasms.
Trapped or compromised spine nerve roots such as the sciatic nerve(1) may also be a result of low back injury. The sciatic nerve comes from the lumbar spine or low back. Low back injuries can cause sciatic nerve compression which causes radiating pain and peripheral and leg numbness including these descriptions: general numbness, persistent or sudden weakness, a pins and needles feeling, an electric-shock-like feeling and/or difficulty moving the leg, foot, and/or toes.
There are many factors which can directly contribute to lower back injury and nerve compression or pinching leading to leg numbness.
Age: Loss of disc height and degenerative changes cause the nerves that go into the leg to be irritated, stretched, or pinched. Weaknesses in the muscles and ligaments in the back allow injury.
Fitness level: Back injuries tend to be more common among people who are not physically fit because weak back and abdominal muscles do not properly support the spine. Weekend warriors who get aggressively physical after being inactive all week are more likely to suffer painful back injuries than those who make moderate physical activity part of their daily routine. Research shows 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 injury and pain.
Occupational risk factors: Working a job requiring heavy lifting, pushing, or pulling, especially when it involves twisting the spine, can lead to injury and back pain. Conversely, a more sedentary desk job may also lead to or contribute to back injury or pain especially if no attempt is made outside of work to keep the body fit.
Backpack overload in children: An overloaded backpack can strain the back and cause muscle fatigue. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, a child’s backpack should weigh no more than 15 to 20 percent of the child’s body weight.
Contact sports, accidents and falls: These traumas can cause minor muscle strains, herniated discs(3) and fractures that may damage the spinal column or cord. Sports injuries, for example, can occur even when an athlete is properly “warmed up” and may result in extremity numbness such as in the leg, paresthesia(2), weakness, neck pain, gross weakness, numbness or significant pain when the cervical region is palpated.
Routine chiropractic care is a safe and non-invasive alternative to prescription opioids or over-the-counter pain medications so commonly prescribed to patients by doctors for management of pain associated with low back injuries. Chiropractic patients regularly notice significantly reduced pain, a notable decrease in pain severity, improved mobility and a greater ability to perform general everyday activities and very often after a relatively short treatment period.
Over the years, I have found that many patients benefit from having regular adjustments and a “health coach” to guide them to be kinder to their spines. Join us as part of the Wagner Chiropractic family to begin taking better care of your spinal health.
Recommendations for keeping one’s back healthy from Low Back Pain Fact Sheet, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Always stretch before exercise or other strenuous physical activity.
Don’t slouch when standing or sitting. The lower back can support a person’s weight most easily when the curvature is reduced. When standing, keep your weight balanced on your feet.
At home or work, make sure work surfaces are at a comfortable height.
Sit in a chair with good lumbar support and proper position and height for the task. Keep shoulders back. Switch sitting positions often and periodically walk around the office or gently stretch muscles to relieve tension. A pillow or rolled-up towel placed behind the small of the back can provide some lumbar support. During prolonged periods of sitting, elevate feet on a low stool or a stack of books.
Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes.
Sleeping on one’s side with the knees drawn up in a fetal position can help open up the joints in the spine and relieve pressure by reducing the curvature of the spine. Always sleep on a firm surface.
Don’t try to lift objects that are too heavy. Lift from the knees, pull the stomach muscles in, and keep the head down and in line with a straight back. When lifting, keep objects close to the body. Do not twist when lifting.
Maintain proper nutrition and diet to reduce and prevent excessive weight gain, especially weight around the waistline that taxes lower back muscles. A diet with sufficient daily intake of calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D helps to promote new bone growth.
Quit smoking. Smoking reduces blood flow to the lower spine, which can contribute to spinal disc degeneration. Smoking also increases the risk of osteoporosis and impedes healing. Coughing due to heavy smoking also may cause back pain.
a major nerve extending from the lower end of the spinal cord down the back of the thigh, and dividing above the knee joint. It is the nerve with the largest diameter in the human body.
an abnormal sensation, typically tingling or pricking (“pins and needles”), caused chiefly by pressure on or damage to peripheral nerves.
an injury to the cushioning and connective tissue between vertebrae, usually caused by excessive strain or trauma to the spine.
McGill, Stuart. Low Back Disorders: Evidence-Based Prevention and Rehabilitation. Human Kinetics, 2016.
Hyde, Thomas E., and Marianne S. Gengenbach. Conservative Management of Sports Injuries. Jones and Bartlett, 2007.