If you have ever been to a doctor because of chronic lower-back pain, you probably noticed that the doctor also asked you whether you feel numbness in your legs as well. The spinal canal, through which the spinal nerves run, extends to the lower back. The nerves in this canal extend to the legs. In other words, if you experience numbness or pain in your legs in addition to your lower-back pain, it is very likely that not only your spinal muscles, but also your spine itself may be in trouble.
The numbness in the lower back and the legs can be attributed to either lumbar intervertebral disc herniation or spinal stenosis. Of course, there can be other causes. However, these two are the most common causes of numbness in the legs. Let’s learn about these symptoms and find out how we can manage them better.
Lumbar intervertebral disc herniation (LIDH)
The vertebral bones of the spine are supported by disc-shaped cartilages that facilitate spine rotation and movement as well as diffuse shock and weight. Each intervertebral disc consists of an outer fibrous ring (annulus fibrosus), surrounding a gel-like center (nucleus pulposus). Stooping low reduces the effective dispersion of weight or pressure on the spin through these discs. Stooping low to pick up heavy objects often and repeatedly will lead the outer fibrous rings of spinal discs to tear and rupture, causing the gel-like nuclei inside to drip out.
When the discharged nuclei escape the spine and weigh in on the nerves extending down to the legs, we experience numbness in our legs. This is a classic symptom of LIDH.
Spinal stenosis is completely different from LIDH in origin and structure. Spinal stenosis occurs when the spinal ligaments and joints thicken due to aging, resulting in a contraction of the spinal canal’s diameter. Contraction of the spinal canal makes it more difficult for blood to flow through it, leading to numbness and pain in the lower back and the legs.
The symptoms also differ slightly. LIDH patients experience pain when they stoop low or crane their upper bodies forward. On the contrary, spinal stenosis patients experience pain when they stretch their backs and/or when they walk. Therefore, spinal stenosis gradually reduces the patient’s ambulatory range.
Managing LIDH and spinal stenosis
Although the two diseases differ in cause and symptom, they can be tackled with similar exercises. In fact, almost all pain and diseases affecting the lower back can be treated with posture-correcting and stretching exercises. However, even more important than exercises is mitigating existing pain first. Staying on antibiotics and painkillers may help pain subside for a short and temporary amount of time. A more fundamental and quite possibly permanent treatment, nevertheless, would involve returning the gel-like nuclei of slipped discs to their original positions by sustaining the lumbar spine so it would remain straight. Traction therapy, originally devised for this very purpose, is particularly effective for LIDH. Home traction therapy devices, such as DDS G2 and DDS 300, can be quite helpful.
Use medical back support belts and traction therapy devices regularly to mitigate and manage pain. Then, you can start exercising. This is particularly a sensitive period for lower-back treatment. The human body naturally roots for and facilitates the recovery of body parts that have been stimulated. As far as your level permits, keep stretching and exercising your lower back. This can significantly delay the degeneration of your spine. In other words, the ultimate solution for spinal health is regular exercise.