Degenerative disc disease leg pain will most likely take the form of shooting pain that travels from your lower back, through your buttocks, down the back of the thigh and around the calf, often extending all the way into the toes. This shooting pain is more commonly referred to as sciatica, because it is caused by compression on the sciatic nerve.
Sometimes, this type of disc pain can be difficult to diagnose because patients feel pain in their legs, but they do not automatically associate this pain with damage in their spine. For this reason, sciatica is often misunderstood. Just remember that any discomfort spanning the entire length of your leg is mostly likely beginning at the root of the sciatic nerve, which originates in the lumbar (lower) region of the spine. The lumbar spine has five vertebrae, L1 to L5, and the L5 vertebra connects to the sacrum (S1) at the end of the spine. Intervertebral discs are located between all of those vertebrae, and these discs are responsible for supporting most of your body weight throughout the day. The sciatic nerve exits the spinal column at the L4, L5 and S1 levels, and if the soft discs in this area deteriorate, it can put pressure directly onto the sciatic nerve.
Degenerative disc disease leg pain may have several causes, the most likely of which is a degenerative disc spine disorder that might include a herniated disc, bulging disc or thinning disc, arthritis, spondylolisthesis, retrospondylolisthesis or spinal stenosis. When you see your physician about your degenerative disc pain, he or she will probably conduct a Straight Leg Raise (SLR) test, which includes the following:
- You will lie down flat on your back.
- Your physician will then put one hand on the ankle of your affected leg and one hand under the knee.
- With your foot flexed, the doctor will slowly raise the leg so that it is about 30 degrees off of the ground.
- If this produces pain in your lower back, your physician will proceed with further tests to confirm a diagnosis of sciatica due to intervertebral disc damage.
There are a variety of treatment options, not only for lower back disc pain but for all types of intervertebral disc pain. First, your physician will probably recommend a course of non-invasive, conservative therapy, which might include pain medication, chiropractic work, steroid injections and mild exercise. If these prove ineffective, contact Laser Spine Institute. Our minimally invasive procedures are designed to remove bits of disc material and other tissue pressing on spinal nerves – and yet we perform them through a small incision so there’s little risk of infection, scarring and tissue damage. Call us for more information or simply send us your MRI or CT scan, and we’ll review it free of charge.