What is it?

Leg Pain is often called sciatica and can manifest anywhere from the spine, buttock and leg, down to the toes. Sciatica really only refers to when the sciatic nerve is irritated in the spine. When other nerves are irritated, different parts of the leg are affected and this is not sciatica.

Leg pain, tingling, numbness or weakness that travels from the low back through the buttock and down the large sciatic nerve in the back of the leg to the little toe in the foot is what we usually mean by ‘sciatica’. The vast majority of people who experience leg pain get better with time (usually a few weeks or months) but find pain relief can be speeded up considerably with non-surgical treatment such as chiropractic. Also the advice we give regarding how you move and work, means you are less likely to suffer from it again because you are more aware of how to do things correctly to avoid the nerve irritation from starting.

sciaticaLeg pain, tingling or numbness is referred to as a “radiculopathy”, which often occurs when a disc has protruded from its normal position in the vertebral column and is putting pressure on the nerve root in the lower back, as you can see from the figure below – the yellow structure is the nerve – here it is part of the sciatic nerve.

The disc can tear too, which allows toxic chemicals to leak out and irritate the nerve and again you may you experience leg pain depending which level you have the tear. You can see this below – the disc is the blue structure and can tear completely like in this picture or just part of the annulus fibrosus can tear.

Every nerve to the leg arises from a different level in the low back so you can feel pain down the back of the leg to the foot or the front of the leg to the big toe or into the groin.

sciaticaLeg Pain, tingling or numbness occurs most frequently in people between 30 and 50 years of age. Often a particular event or injury does not cause symptoms in the leg, but rather they tend to develop as a result of general wear and tear on the structures of the lower spine. Low back pain can also arise with leg pain, or niggles in the low back can mean that the disc is rupturing as you can see in the diagram left,  which could lead to leg pain.

Read more about the research and treatment for leg pain


For some people, the pain from radicular irritation can be severe and debilitating. For others, the pain might be infrequent and irritating, but has the potential to get worse.

Symptoms can vary from minor pins and needles in a couple of toes, to weakness in some of the foot muscles such that your foot ‘slaps’ on the floor when you walk. You might experience coldness in the leg, numbness in the leg or foot or buttock pain.

Radicular pain usually only involves one leg, however, it sometimes can irritate both legs if the disc bulge is more in the middle. This type of disc bulge or herniation can rarely give rise to bowel or bladder problems meaning you want to pass urine but you can’t or you have numbness round the genital area. These symptoms are serious and should be discussed immediately with your GP or Chiropractor.

While leg pain can be very painful, it is rare that permanent nerve damage (tissue damage) will result. Most leg pain syndromes result from inflammation and will get better within two weeks to a few months. Also, because the spinal cord is not present in the lower (lumbar) spine, a herniated disc in this area of the anatomy does not present a danger of paralysis.