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Is Numbness in my leg or foot an important sign???

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picI’m frequently asked about the importance of numbness by patients and friends alike. Everyone wants to know why it’s there and of course does it mean that something is seriously wrong?

Here’s some information that hopefully helps you to understand it better!

Every nerve in our legs has two main ‘highway’s’ that carry information to and from our brains. The portion of our nerves that carry information back to our brains is the ‘sensory’ root of the nerve and it keeps us informed as to our balance, whether we are in an air-conditioned room, have we sustained an injury and are in pain, are there pins and needles sticking in our leg, etc. You get the idea! The other ‘highway’ in the nerve is the ‘motor’ root and it’s the one that tells our muscles what to do. The brain says walk and the message travels down the motor root of the nerves to the muscles of the legs and off we go!

So what happens when the Sensory root of the nerves are disturbed? Why does it feel like there are pins and needles in my leg or foot?

Pain is the ‘language’ of the body. The body has to have a way to communicate with our brains and pain is the way our body ‘speaks’ to us. Changes in sensation are referred to as ‘paresthesia’ by doctors, meaning that the sensory information we expect the body to have are now altered; the information is not what we expected. If you are sensing that there are pins and needles in your leg, or numbness like you would expect from being in ice water, but you look at your leg and sure enough it is not in ice water and there are no pins and needles protruding from your leg, then guess what? You have paresthesia or altered sensation. The important question now is  WHY?

Most often the reason people experience numbness in the leg and/or foot is that there is pressure on the sensory portion of the nerve root that serves that area. There can be many reasons for pressure on a nerve root, with some of the most common ones being injury to a disc in the lumbar spine, spinal stenosis, facet syndrome, degenerative disc disease, and even muscle spasm, to name but a few.

The challenge for most people is to figure out how to make it stop! Having a proper diagnosis is a good starting point, and then following the right rehabilitation pathway usually leads to success.

If you have numbness or pain that is bothersome and want to get to the ‘root’ of the problem, give us a call and we’ll be happy to find the solution for you!

Dr. Jeffrey K. Tunick

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