How Can Leg Pain Be Related to Back Pain?

Have you ever sat on the metro on your way to Foggy Bottom, Farragut North or Farragut West and felt your hamstring ache or your feel your foot start to tingle? Have you been walking down K street or M street and feel a shooting pain in your thigh and the outside of your calf that goes into your foot? There is a good chance this pain is originating from your low back even though you are not experiencing back pain.

What is Referred Pain?

Referred pain is when you feel pain in a part of the body that is not the original source of pain. When there is a pinched nerve in your low back it can refer pain to your buttocks, hamstrings, calves and feet.

What is Sciatica?

One of the most common forms of referred pain is sciatica. The term sciatica refers to an irritation of the sciatic nerve, which is the largest nerve in the body. The sciatic nerve is formed by the nerve roots of the two lower lumbar segments and top three sacral segments. The nerve and its branches run from the low back into the buttocks and down the back of the leg to the toes.

Where you feel pain, numbness, or tingling depends on where the nerve is pinched. For example, if the L4 nerve is irritated you may feel achy / sharp pain over the top and inside of your knee as well as the inside you your calf. However, if the L5 nerve is irritated you may feel achy / sharp pain at the outside of your calf or in your big toe.

What are Common Symptoms of Referred Back Pain?

While not all leg pain is referred from your low back, here are a few symptoms to look out for which are common if it is referred pain from your back.

  • Dull achy pain that feels like a tight muscle and stretching does not provide lasting relief.
  • Numbness and tingling of the leg and/or foot.
  • Leg pain that does not go away with rest or changing positions.
  • Weakness or fatigue in the leg.
  • Leg pain while coughing, sneezing, or moving your bowels.

If you are experiencing these symptoms reaching out to a chiropractor for an evaluation is a great place to start. Letting symptoms of nerve irritation linger could have long term effects if not treated properly.

As always, please feel free to email me at with any questions or topics you would like to see discussed in this space, give me a call at 202-733-5604, or schedule an appointment to come meet with me in person and discuss a personalized treatment plan.

Talk to you soon.

Dr. Rosenberg

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