Degenerative disc disease and leg pain — what’s the link?

Degenerative disc disease can cause leg pain that often takes the form of shooting sensations that travel from your lower back down the backs of one or both of your legs. This shooting pain is commonly referred to as sciatica and often results from a compression of the sciatic nerve in the lumbar (lower) spine.

Sciatica and other symptoms caused by a degenerative disc in the lower back is a common condition for adults over the age of 50. As the spine ages, years of repetitive motion combined with natural loss of water content wear down the discs in the spine — particularly in the lumbar spine because it is responsible for supporting so much of the body’s weight and movement. This constant compression can lead to a damaged disc that becomes displaced and presses against a spinal nerve, including the sciatic nerve that originates in the lower back and extends into the legs.

If you are experiencing pain and discomfort in your lower back, buttocks, back of the thigh, calf and/or toes that is lasting longer than a few days to a week, you should consult with your doctor to determine if it is related to degenerative disc disease or another spine condition. The sooner your condition is diagnosed, the sooner you can begin your journey to pain relief through conservative or surgical treatment.

Diagnosing degenerative disc disease and leg pain

When you see your physician about your symptoms, he or she will probably conduct a straight leg raise (SLR) test to determine if your leg pain is related to a spine condition such as degenerative disc disease. This test includes the following steps:

  1. You will lie down flat on your back.
  2. Your physician will then put one hand on the ankle of your affected leg and one hand under the knee.
  3. With your foot flexed, the doctor will slowly raise the leg so that it is about 30 degrees off the ground.
  4. If this produces pain in your lower back, your physician will proceed with further tests, such as an MRI, to confirm a diagnosis.

Once the condition has been diagnosed, you and your doctor can create a treatment plan to help you find relief for your pain and symptoms.

Treatments for degenerative disc disease and leg pain

There are a range of treatments that can be used to treat degenerative spine conditions. First, your doctor should recommend a course of conservative therapy, which may include pain medication, chiropractic work, steroid injections and physical therapy. Surgery may become an option if weeks or months of conservative treatment do not bring the relief necessary for a good quality of life.

If you are considering surgery to treat leg pain and other symptoms caused by a spine condition such as degenerative disc disease, contact Laser Spine Institute. Our minimally invasive outpatient spine surgery offers patients a lower risk of complication and a shorter recovery time compared to traditional open neck or back procedures.^

If you are suffering from sciatica pain, it’s time for you to take the next step on your journey to pain relief. Reach out to the caring and dedicated team at Laser Spine Institute for a no-cost review of your MRI or CT scan* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.