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Pins and needles: what are they?

izzy.londoniizzy.london Posts: 17
I'm onto my sixth month of fighting sciatica and still do not understand what exactly causes the pins and needles I feel on/off all day behind my whole leg (down to heel).

Are they good or bad news? Are they a symptom of relief from a stressed (bad) posture, in which case I should look at the particular move/position I've just been in? Or do they occur immediately while in bad move/posture? Are they a sign of healing? Should they be avoided, ignored? Sometimes they start at the beginning of an exercise, but disappear upon repetition of the exercise, pretty puzzling...

And what are they? Compressed blood vessels creating pins and needles upon decompression (good news, though unpleasant), or nerve signalling compression/decompression?

I just can't find any answer on the internet, possibly because all searches lead to general lower back pain topics. Anyone knows better?
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Comments

  • dilaurodilauro ConnecticutPosts: 9,742
    One of the reasons you are getting a lot of other references is that sciatica is caused by a disc condition, so understanding the root cause is important in understanding the condition.

    For starters, take a look at Spine-Health articles:

    Sciatica

    It should be a good starting point for more research
    Ron DiLauro Spine-Health System Administrator
    I am not a medical professional. I comment on personal experiences
    You can email me at: rdilauro@veritashealth.com
  • Thank you. I have read your article on sciatica many times, as well as numerous other articles. I understand that my disc is crushed and bulging, pressing on the nerve, which causes pain as well as pins and needles.

    What I still don't understand is what happens when pins and needles occur. Are they just another interpretation of pain, caused by exactly the same mechanism which causes the other sore feelings (pinching, tightness etc)? Is it when the nerve is touched, or when pressure on the nerve is relieved? Is it a sign that the nerve gets irritated/inflamed again, should it be avoided at all cost, does it set back recovery or shouldn't I worry because it doesn't matter that much?

    For instance I get it just after getting up from bed: is it caused by the way I get up, or by my own body weight once I'm up, or because something was compressed when I was laying down on my back? Or something else?

    I get many pins and needles throughout the day, would like to know what is physically happening when they occur – not just that they're a symptom of sciatica, which is all I can find in the readings I've done so far...
  • Have you had any MRI for your back yet? Do you have back pain? I had a herniated disc and the nerve was being compressed by the disc material touching the sciatic nerve down the leg. Part of the inflammation is when the disc has a tear it release biochemicals cytokines and cause irritation to the nerve and causes this pain and numbness. There can also be discogenic pain leading to sciatica also.

    A EMG/nerve test of your leg can show Drs where the nerve compression is by the test results. If you have sciatica it's compression of a nerve and you need to see a Dr. to see how he can help. It's inflammation and sometimes Physiotherapy can help. Sleep on your side with a pillow between your legs.

    Can you put in your signature tests you've had ordered because you need to get treatment for sciatica. I take Cymbalta, just one nerve pain med and Lyrica also which helps the pain. Ice can help and sometimes heat. What treatments has your Dr. offered or tests? Take care and Welcome to the forum. Charry

    DDD of lumbar spine with sciatica to left hip,leg and foot. L4-L5 posterior disc bulge with prominent facets, L5-S1 prominent facets with a posterior osteocartilaginous bar. Mild bilateral foraminal narrowing c-spine c4-c7 RN
  • Hi Izzy,

    I don't think you really need to concern yourself with the minute details of the pins and needles. You know that they are caused by preesure on your sciatic nerve, exactly the same as the pain of sciatica. When pressure is released the pain or pins and needles go away.

    You also have experience of exercise doing that for you, so stick with the exercises. Stretch the hamstrings and piriformis muscles and you will relieve the pressure on the sciatic nerve. But don't stop when the pain and pins and needles stop. Keep up a regular schedule of stretching and you will strengthen the relevant muscles and reduce the chances of sciatica returning.

    Best of luck

  • izzy.london said:
    I'm onto my sixth month of fighting sciatica and still do not understand what exactly causes the pins and needles I feel on/off all day behind my whole leg (down to heel).

    Are they good or bad news? Are they a symptom of relief from a stressed (bad) posture, in which case I should look at the particular move/position I've just been in? Or do they occur immediately while in bad move/posture? Are they a sign of healing? Should they be avoided, ignored? Sometimes they start at the beginning of an exercise, but disappear upon repetition of the exercise, pretty puzzling...

    And what are they? Compressed blood vessels creating pins and needles upon decompression (good news, though unpleasant), or nerve signalling compression/decompression?

    I just can't find any answer on the internet, possibly because all searches lead to general lower back pain topics. Anyone knows better?
    I am not a Dr. so i can only give you my opinion on what is happening when the pins and needles are present.
    It is my opinion that the pins and needles are being caused when something (bone spurs,protruding disk, etc.) is pressing on the sciatic nerve. This is a sign that something is not right. The tingling that you feel is the nerve pulsating. I am not sure what the pulsating actually is. ie expanding and or contracting blood vessels etc. However i do feel that anything that stops this tingling is good. It means that the nerve is not being irritated anymore when it stops tingling.
    So, anything that you have done and can do to stop the "pins and needles" should be continued.
    Good luck with your treatment.
    As always you should check with a physician and get the correct diagnosis for the cause of your sciatica pain and discomfort.


  • Thanks all.

    I did have an MRI a couple of months ago showing two bulging discs, one (S1/L5) pressing on the nerve. Can't stand up longer than an hour (at best) or sit down for more than a minute, walking ability varies but isn't great. Doctors gave me painkillers and a few physiotherapist sessions, I am on a waiting list for further specialist appointments but weeks pass by before I get to see someone and I feel pretty much on my own...

    Painkillers all gave me side effects (rashes, constipation, breathlessness / dizziness and anxiety) so I've dropped them all! Saves me the risk of long-term side effects, plus they didn't really work anyway... Symptoms move around but, on the whole, have worsened since the beginning of my sciatica; my body tries to heal (very slowly) but relapsed after I kind of fell down a couple of times. I understand that proper exercising is ultimately the only way out and that, even if I do end up having surgery, I'll have to practice for the rest of my life. Trying to build up a routine at the moment.

    I will keep looking for answers with regards to the mysterious pins and needles effect and, should I come across a good explanation, will post my findings here.

    Izzy
  • Just wondering why you fell? Was it in any way due to weakness of your leg? I think you need to see a Neurologist for a nerve test/EMG for any weakness of sciatica.

    If you get approval from your Dr. there are stretches you can do listed here on Spine Health, just do a search for exercises in the little blue box at the top of this page.

    Keep your feet on a footstool with your legs almost at hip level under your desk at the computer or while sitting. Sleep with a pillow between your knees and see about aquatherapy or Physiotherapy with your PT.

    I also use a cane for stability as my leg has given out also and I do have a weak ankle. I did fall a few weeks ago but that was due to catching my cat and fell down some stairs! Also a Neurologist will give you some answers for the sciatica and how it works.

    I sent you that PM with that helpful link and my PT said don't do exercise except walking that will make you leg/foot more numb.

    It's great you can get by without pain meds as some also cause me rashes but I can take slow release medications to help with the leg and back pain as well as Cymbalta.

    I hope you see the Specialist soon so he can help you but please let your Dr. know about the falling and if it's caused by weakness in your leg or ankle. Charry
    DDD of lumbar spine with sciatica to left hip,leg and foot. L4-L5 posterior disc bulge with prominent facets, L5-S1 prominent facets with a posterior osteocartilaginous bar. Mild bilateral foraminal narrowing c-spine c4-c7 RN
  • Thanks Charry. I have started reading pages from that link, it seems quite thorough and I will spend more time on them.

    I said 'fall' to simplify, but technically speaking it was more jumping up in a jerky fashion because of wrong impulsive reflexes, not because of the sciatica itself. The first time I walked on a floor's loose joist (my fault) and went down till I leapt up onto the next one. The second time, like you, the cat was involved, she scared me by throwing her unidentified catch up in the air right next to my bed, I too flew up in the air screaming and bringing my knees to my shoulders for protection. Losing concentration, not controlling old reflexes, stepping out of a routine, feeling vulnerable... it takes a fraction of a second to injure oneself further. And weeks to recover.

    Today I've had pins and needles all the time I've been up – which wasn't much – but not much pain otherwise. Symptoms keep changing, it's so hard to know what is going on and whether or not it's getting better.

    Be careful with painkillers, they can damage your liver after a while... Try using creams or gels in local application rather than pills?

    The next specialist is in a month's time - except for a 'fitness class' tomorrow, which I don't think is appropriate for me but I have to go (to show willingness) and it does push me a bit... After that, it might be plan B: at present I'm under the UK national health service and it doesn't feel like my health matters much to them, so I will go abroad for affordable private care. I would have done so earlier, only I can't travel because I can't sit...

    I hope your leg gets better and that you can give up the cane soon... Walking aids aren't ideal, they cause tension/stress elsewhere, but necessary with a weak ankle. As you say, keep faith! And the exercises...
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