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back & leg pain with weird numbness

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,670
Hello all,

I've had some lower back issues in my past and it's catching up with me now, so I need a little advice.

First, L4-S1 herniated discs from a work injury, diagnosed back around 1989, Out of work for a few months, PT, I was young and I came out of it okay. No surgery.

Fast forward to today, I'm 41 and it's baaaa-aaacccck (pun intended). Symptomatically:

extensive numbness, tingling, and burning on the top of my thighs, from my pelvic bone, down inner thigh, past the knee, back up the outer thigh/almost back of my leg. Also on the outer calf, down to the foot, and the top of my foot. This happens sporadically, and on both sides but not always simultaneously.

All the classic shooting, stabbing, electric pains from my hips to my toes, but (new this time around) is a horrible ache-type intense (at times) pain from my hips through the middle of my thighs and into my knees. On the 1 to 10 scale, it's a constant 6-7 and is becoming unbearable, especially with the spikes taking it up to 11 at times.

I'm traveling for the holidays, and will probably go to an urgent care facility to get the pain under control. Then back to work 3000 miles away, go see my regular dr and begin treating it.

The big question is that the numbness does not seem to match up with classic sciatica. I've looked at Meralgia parasthetica, which may be likely as I've had some "female" surgery, but it was almost 3 years ago. I can't seem to correlate the symptoms - maybe the pain is making me a little dumb, I suppose.....

Any advice?



  • Pain on the top of the thighs can be more consistent with L4 nerve pain...so it may be that your disc above the usual area is having some problems now, too.

    Sorry you are experiencing this while traveling, not that there ever is a good time...but pain always seems to be aggravated by all that travel entails...suitcases, bending over one time too many, carrying a pocketbook on one shoulder, unfamiliar beds, etc.

    There really isn't one type of sciatic pain. If you are having spinal root compression that is causing sciatic-type pain in your legs, the quality of the pain will depend on the extent of the compression. Usually the more numbness that is involved, the more the nerve is compressed.

    You can search for a dermatome map or chart and see which spinal nerve roots energize which parts of the legs and feet. They run in a fairly predictable pattern -- for example, if you tell your surgeon your big toe is numb, he knows to check to see if the L4 nerve is being pinched. Since we are not put together with a computer, the dermatomes can overlap or vary slightly from patient to patient, but it is certainly a fairly predictable way of locating a problem.

    I hope you are seeing a fellowship-trained spinal specialist and that he/she will be able to design a treatment program for you when you get home....

    To ease your pain in the meantime I have a couple suggestions: you might want to try icing for ten to fifteen minutes every hour or two through the day if pain is in a flare. I find using a heating pad every night very comforting. If you get really serious about heat, you might want to get an infrared heating pad. It penetrates more deeply than a standard pad and some people find them very comforting.

    Here is one exercise that provides a natural traction. Lie flat on the floor (you may use a SMALL pillow under your head if necessary). Bend legs at the knees with feet flat on floor. Arms should be close to your sides, palms up. Tuck chin very slightly toward chest so you are not staring at the ceiling! Be sure pelvis is in neutral position. Breathe deeply from the belly, slowly and lie like this for up to five minutes.

    This position takes the pressure off the spine, allowing the discs to unload. This allows the soft tissue to stop "guarding" the injured area, and gives it a little break, allowing the muscles to relax, if they are cramping up. I still do this several times each day. Before my surgery, I was doing it every hour or two as it was the only thing that brought me relief....I've been known to find a quiet corner in the airport and lie down and do my traction exercise! Otherwise I could not have continued on my flight.

    I hope it helps you too. Hope you can get home without too much difficulty and pain. Unfortunately pain pills do not touch sciatic pain...and the drugs for nerve pain take awhile to kick in. Maybe you could try one of those cold compresses like you get at the drug store for the flight home....

    Please come back and let us know how you are doing....

    Here's some good information on sciatic pain:

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