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To Replace or Not to Replace, That is the Question

In fact, the origin of leg pain is often not even related to any part of the leg. Pain, tingling and numbness felt in the hips, legs, ankles, and feet can be caused by a low back disorder called lumbar radiculopathy.

Five sets of paired nerve roots in the lumbar spine (low back) combine to create the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body and is about the diameter of a finger. Starting at the back of the pelvis (sacrum), the sciatic nerve runs from the back, under the buttock, and downward through the hip area, into each leg all the way to the feet (see diagram to the left). Nerve roots are not ‘solitary’ structures, but are part of the body’s entire nervous system, capable of transmitting pain and sensation to other parts of the body. Radiculopathy results when compression of a nerve root occurs in the lumbar spine.

Because this compression affects the sciatic nerve, it is called sciatica. Generally symptoms are felt on one side of the body. The pain may be dull, sharp, burning, or accompanied by intermittent shocks of shooting pain beginning in the buttock, traveling downward to the back of the thigh. Symptoms can extend to and below the knee on the way to the ankle and into the foot. Some people also complain of numbness and tingling. Sitting and trying to stand up can be painful and difficult, while coughing and sneezing can intensify symptoms.

Though these symptoms may be uncomfortable and disruptive, they are often temporary and provide a warning to address a problem before it becomes irreversible. Common causes of lumbar radiculopathy are:

• Herniated Disc – A disc between the vertebral bones ruptures, creating pressure against the nerve root.

• Lumbar Spinal Stenosis – Narrowing of the spinal canal results in pressure against the nerve root.

• Degenerative Disc Disease – A deterioration of the intervertebral disc causes bone spurs to form on the vertebrae and compress the nerve root.

Rarely is nerve damage permanent and paralysis is seldom a danger, as the spinal cord ends before the first lumbar vertebrae. However, pain and/or discomfort is a warning signal from your body; something is wrong. Heed the warnings and consult a physician or health professional to address any of the symptoms described. Your future and your health could depend on it.


This information was provided by HealthQuest Physical Therapy and Wellness Centers: Return to Work, Return to Life, Return to Play.  To learn more about HealthQuest Physical Therapy services and how we can help you recover from an on-the-job injury, regain your independence and get back to living your life, or return to the physical activities you love visit our website at

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Written by Brooks Juneau

June 25, 2008 at 4:02 pm

Posted in Knee

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