Bulging disc leg pain affects millions of people, though the condition may be more familiar to you as “sciatica.” Sciatica is a symptom of spinal nerve compression—specifically compression of the sciatic nerve—that is often a result of a herniated disc or a bulging disc in the L4 to S1 level of the lower spine.
In addition to the sciatic nerve, many other nerve roots in the lumbar (lower) spine serve the legs, so a bulging disc at any point between the five vertebrae of the lumbar spine (L1 to L5) – or between the bottom of the lumbar spine and sacrum (L5 to S1) could result in leg pain.
One of the most common nerves to be compressed in the lower back, however, is the sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in the body. The sciatic nerve branches off the spinal cord at the L4, L5 and S1 vertebrae, intertwines as one large nerve and then travels down each leg to the feet. The discs between the L4, L5 and S1 vertebrae support most of the body’s weight and experience a lot of wear and tear, so they are prone to damage and injury. If one of these discs permanently bulges under the pressure, there’s a chance it can press on the sciatic nerve and send pain shooting from the lower back, through the buttocks, down the back of the thighs, around the calves and into the toes. Sometimes piriformis syndrome—a condition where the piriformis muscle in the buttocks causes sciatic nerve compression—presents similar symptoms, though this should not be confused with bulging disc pain.
Sciatica is a type of radiculopathy, which simply means that the disc pain and other symptoms follow the nerve’s path. This type of pain is also called “referred,” meaning that it appears in places other than the exact origin of injury, which is why some people don’t connect their leg pain with a bulging disc in their spine.
Below are some common symptoms of bulging disc leg pain:
- Cramping in the gluteal muscles
- Throbbing or shooting pain in the hamstrings
- Aching in the calves
- A pins-and-needles sensation in the calves and feet, called “paresthesias”
If you have been diagnosed with leg pain due to a bulging disc, there are a number of non-invasive treatment options that you could try. And, although periods of rest may be beneficial, sciatica tends to worsen when a person becomes sedentary in his or her attempt to avoid lower back disc pain, so it’s important stay relatively active with low-impact activities like walking, swimming or yoga (with a physician’s permission).
If you would like more information about slipped disc pain, herniated disc pain, or options for disc pain treatment, contact Laser Spine Institute today about our minimally invasive procedures, and to receive a review of your CT scan or MRI.