We depend on our feet every day, but we don’t really give them much thought — until they are bothering us. Many individuals can feel chronic pain in their legs, on the bottoms or tops of their feet, in their calves, or along their thighs. They may also similarly feel odd tingling, numbness, or shooting sensations in these areas. The symptoms may be accompanied by stiffness, muscle weakness, or sometimes difficulty walking and moving around.
There are many possible causes of these symptoms, including a condition known as “neuropathy,” which is common in individuals with diabetes, a heart condition, or metabolic syndrome.
However, the pain, numbness, and tingling could also be related to nerve compression in the lower back. These are the same conditions that frequently cause lower back pain, stiffness, and limited mobility in 16 million Americans. Yet, you don’t have to actively have lower back pain to feel the effects on your feet!
If you are experiencing odd sensations in your legs, feet, or extremities in general, then investigating the health of your lower back could be a good place to start. You can book an appointment with a podiatrist near you to evaluate your condition and get started on the most appropriate treatment.
Read on for more information about foot pain/nerve sensations and their possible relationship to your lower back.
Feeling of Pain, Numbness, and Pins and Needles in the Feet Can Be Hard to Pin Down
Relatively speaking, your feet are a long way down from most vital organs. To keep them in sync with the rest of your body, your feet sit at the end of a long network of blood vessels and nerve conduits.
The most significant of these nerve conduits that connect your lower extremities to your main nervous system is the sciatic nerve. It originates from your lumbar spine, just above the sacroiliac joint, which connects your spine to your hip bones. This nerve then winds its way along the backside of your femur, through the calf, and on down to the ankles and feet.
In addition to the sciatic nerve, there are hundreds of smaller nerves branching off from your main spinal conduit into the various regions of your thighs, knees, calves, and feet. Basically, you have an entire network of nerve signals controlling the operation of your legs’ various muscle systems while also sending vital feedback to and from your central nervous system.
Strange sensations — including shooting pains, stabbing pains, prickly sensations, numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness — can be caused by interference along any of these nervous system pathways.
The fact that these sensations can come and go is a testament to the fact that there could be issues with the nerves themselves, not the actual organs where the sensations are felt. You can think of it as similar to getting a blurry signal on your radio, where the signal fades in and out, interrupted by pops of static or unexpected transmissions from other frequencies. While the nervous system is more like an electrical circuit than a radio signal, interference anywhere along the conduit can cause this type of effect.
Also, just like sometimes getting a poor radio signal, the actual effects can be hard to describe. The individual suffering from the condition may experience inconsistent symptoms, and some days they may not feel symptoms at all. These intermittent symptoms can cause someone to delay seeking a diagnosis, and it can also lead to an exhaustive medical investigation once they do seek out a professional opinion.
When Looking for the Culprit Behind Foot Pain, Tingling, and Strange Nerve Sensations, Start at the Source: The Lower Back
Again, odd nerve sensations in the feet and lower extremities could be caused by any number of conditions. Properly diagnosing the cause and determining an appropriate treatment could require extensive testing and some measure of trial and error. Each patient case is unique.
That said, the lower back can be a good place to start the discovery process. Since the major nerve conduits start here, resolving the issue close to the spine can relieve symptoms all the way down the leg. Further, many individuals suffer from lower back issues that can create symptoms in the lower nervous system, especially in individuals over 30 years of age.
Addressing stress factors placed upon your lower back can also have the effect of improving your overall health, helping you strengthen blood flow and nervous system functioning from the waist down.
Possible Causes of Foot Pain, Tingling, Nerve Sensations Stemming From the Lower Back
The most common root cause of lower back issues and related foot/leg nerve issues is spinal stenosis. “Spinal stenosis” is a way to refer to a group of conditions that all have the same effect: narrowing spaces within your spine where nerve conduits travel.
Causes and risk factors of spinal stenosis include:
- Osteoarthritis — The breakdown of cartilage in joints in between the spine’s vertebrae
- Bone spurs — Bone regrowth in areas of bone that has become worn down, where the new bone has grown in such a way as to place pressure on nerves
- Bulging/herniated discs — A condition where the back has become compressed or stressed to the point where the gelatinous disc in between vertebrae, changing the shape of the vertebrae in such a way that the nerves can get “pinched” or have pressure put upon them
- Thickened ligaments — Ligaments help connect the vertebrae to form the spinal cord. They can become thickened over time, especially in response to age, stress, or inflammation.
- Past fractures and injury
- Congenital conditions
- Cysts, tumors, and other unusual growth
Sciatica is a specific type of spinal stenosis that results in pressure along the sciatic nerve. Symptoms of sciatica are consistent with the condition that is the focus of this article: strange sensations, pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness in the feet. Individuals with sciatica may also feel pain in their inner thigh or face, difficulty walking or standing for long periods of time.
Treating Lower Back Issues to Help Resolve Foot Pain and Strange Nerve Symptoms
The good news is that your condition is likely to be treatable!
Rehabilitation through stretching and light physical exercise a few times a week can help strengthen the muscles that support your lower back while relieving the tension and pressure caused by repetitive stress.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve), or the non-NSAID acetaminophen (Tylenol) may be recommended by your treating physician. You may also be prescribed a temporary regimen of pain relievers, muscle relaxers, or other similar drugs.
Applying ice packs or heat packs can also help relieve acute pain or lower back stress.
Generally, lifestyle changes are likely to be recommended. While we can’t help whether or not we sit or stand during work all day, there are small things we can do throughout the day to keep our lower back healthy and to reduce strain. Individual sufferers should pay close attention to their posture throughout their day, and they should take breaks between periods of prolonged sitting or standing. You may need to invest in a new mattress, chair, or orthopedic cushions in order to achieve the desired results and comfort.
In any case, always review concerning symptoms with a licensed clinician, including your chronic pain and nerve-related issues. A podiatrist can help evaluate your condition, perform tests, obtain a diagnosis, and recommend a series of care options to see if it can alleviate your condition.
In some instances, surgery may be recommended to reduce nerve entrapment or address other underlying conditions contributing to your symptoms.
To speak with a licensed, experienced podiatrist near you about nerve pain, tingling, numbness, and other odd sensations in the feet, call us (801) 396-9743 or contact a Salt Lake City podiatrist near you to schedule an appointment.