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 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 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 physician 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. Left untreated, these symptoms can worsen and become debilitating.

The sciatic nerve and its role in 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.

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.

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”

Treatment for leg pain caused by a bulging disc

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 stay relatively active with low-impact activities like walking, swimming or yoga (with a physician’s permission).

If surgery becomes necessary to treat your lumbar bulging disc and sciatica pain, we encourage you to research the minimally invasive surgery offered at Laser Spine Institute. Our procedures provide patients with a safer and effective alternative to traditional open back surgery and fusion.^

Many patients with sciatica 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 being experienced. In the event that the entire disc needs to be removed, our surgeons will perform a minimally invasive stabilization procedure to insert an artificial disc into the empty space to stabilize the spine. Both procedures are performed through a small incision that does not disrupt the muscles and ligaments near the spine, allowing our patients to experience a shorter recovery time^ than patients who undergo traditional spine surgery and fusion.

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.