What causes bulging disc leg pain?

A bulging disc in the lumbar spine (lower back) often results in leg pain and sometimes even numbness or tingling in the leg or foot. These symptoms are referred to as sciatica and are commonly associated with a pinched sciatic nerve in the lower back, often a result of 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 spine transmit nerve signals to the legs. Therefore, 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.

If you are experiencing shooting pain, numbness or tingling in your leg or foot that lasts for more than a week, you should consult your doctor to determine whether or not you have a bulging or damaged disc in your lumbar spine. Often, a compressed sciatic nerve can cause symptoms that radiate from the spine to the foot. If these symptoms are left untreated, they can worsen and become debilitating. Read on to learn more about the symptoms of a bulging disc and the conservative therapies and surgical treatments available to relieve your discomfort.

The sciatic nerve and its role in bulging disc leg pain

The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body. It 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.

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 paresthesia

Sometimes piriformis syndrome, which is 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.

Treatments for bulging disc leg pain

If you have been diagnosed with leg pain due to a bulging disc, there are a number of noninvasive treatment options that you could try. Although periods of rest may be beneficial and tempting due to the pain, sciatica tends to worsen when a person becomes sedentary in his or her attempt to avoid lower back disc pain, so it’s important to stay relatively active with low-impact activities like walking, swimming or yoga as long as you get a doctor’s permission.

If surgery becomes necessary to treat your lumbar bulging disc leg pain, we encourage you to research the minimally invasive surgery offered at Laser Spine Institute and contact our dedicated team with any questions or concerns. Our procedures provide patients with no lengthy recovery as well as a safer and effective alternative to traditional open back surgery.^

Many patients with bulging disc leg pain will be recommended to undergo a minimally invasive discectomy procedure, sometimes accompanied by a stabilization procedure. The discectomy removes a small portion of the damaged disc in order to decompress the sciatic nerve and relieve the pain and symptoms experienced. In the event that the entire disc needs to be removed, our board-certified surgeons+ will perform a minimally invasive stabilization procedure to insert an artificial disc into the empty space to stabilize the spine.

At Laser Spine Institute, our state-of-the-art procedures are performed through a small incision that does not disrupt the muscles and ligaments near the spine, allowing our patients to experience a lower risk of complication and minimal scarring compared to patients who undergo traditional spine surgery.^ We have had the privilege of helping more than 75,000 patients to date find relief from their chronic back pain.

If you would like more information about options for bulging disc leg pain treatment, reach out to Laser Spine Institute today about our advanced procedures and receive a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for our minimally invasive spine surgery.