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What Causes Back Pain that Radiates into Your Legs?

What Causes Back Pain that Radiates into Your Legs?

When your leg hurts, it’s logical to assume that you’ve injured it or have some sort of problem with your leg muscles or joints. But often, leg pain has nothing to do with your leg at all — instead, it indicates a lower back problem.

Renowned physician Jay M. Shah. MD, FAAPMR, at SamWell Institute for Pain Management, helps New Jerseyans determine the underlying cause of mysterious leg pain and resolve the issue using the most advanced technologies and techniques. 

As a double-board certified, Ivy-League-trained specialist, Dr. Shah understands the intricacies involved in complex neuro and musculoskeletal conditions and is one of the most sought-after experts in his field. 

Conditions that cause radiating pain from your back to your leg

Here, Dr. Shah explains the most common back conditions that can cause neuropathy and leg pain, and the treatments that can help you manage or alleviate your symptoms.


Sciatica is pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, which branches from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down each leg. It typically affects only one side of your body. 

Rather than a condition, sciatica is a symptom of a condition, usually a herniated disc, bone spur on the spine, or narrowing of the spine (spinal stenosis) that compresses part of the nerve. Anything that touches, pinches, or irritates your sciatic nerve can cause inflammation, pain, and often some numbness in the affected leg.

Lumbar herniated disc

You have protective discs between each pair of vertebrae in your spine. A lumbar (lower back) herniated disc occurs when the soft inner material of a disc leaks out, or herniates, through the fibrous outer core and irritates or pinches a nearby nerve root. 

The main symptom is sharp, intense pain that starts in your lower back and travels down the back of your leg.


Arachnoiditis is a rare condition where the arachnoid, a membrane that protects your spinal cord’s nerves, becomes inflamed. This can lead to scarring and adhesions, which cause your spinal nerves to “stick” together. 

Symptoms include stinging, burning pain, and neurological problems such as numbness, weakness, or a sensation of bugs crawling on your legs.

Piriformis syndrome

Piriformis syndrome is a neuromuscular condition where the piriformis muscle — located in your buttock region — spasms and causes hip and buttock pain. The piriformis muscle can also irritate the nearby sciatic nerve and cause pain, numbness, and tingling along the back of your leg and into your foot.


Lumbar radiculopathy is a disease process that affects your lumbar spinal nerve root. The most common cause is a herniated disc in the lower spine, and symptoms include sharp pain that starts near your back or buttock, travels down a leg to your foot or ankle, and, in some cases, into the toes.

Treatments for pain radiating from your back to your leg 

Dr. Shah offers several treatment options for radiating back pain, depending on the underlying cause. Here are some of the conservative and innovative treatments he may recommend.

Physical therapy

One of the most effective conservative treatments for radiating pain is physical therapy. We can design a regimen that strengthens your back and improves your posture to alleviate spinal pressure and radiating pain.  

In addition to stretches and workouts, our PT treatments include heat and cold therapy, TENS, massage therapy, ultrasound, and other modalities that reduce inflammation and bring relief.


Dr. Shah may recommend acupuncture to alleviate your radiating pain. Using proven Traditional Chinese Medicine techniques, acupuncture involves inserting thin needles at specific points to stimulate your body’s natural painkillers, and it’s effective for many people in managing pain.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Dr. Shah understands that your body and mind are closely linked and work together to stop pain. CBT can help you manage chronic back pain by changing unhelpful cognitive, behavioral, and emotional responses.

Spinal cord stimulation (SCS)

SCS is a viable option if conservative treatments haven’t worked. It uses low-level electrical signals to interrupt pain signals reaching your brain. However, it requires a mandatory trial phase to gauge success and a minimally invasive surgical procedure to implant the electrical leads and generator.

Dorsal root ganglion stimulation works similarly to SCS but targets a more specific set of nerves for more precise pain control.

Nerve blocks and injections

In some cases, radiating pain between the lower back and leg responds well to a nerve block or epidural steroid injection that interrupts pain signals and provides instant relief. 

Radiofrequency ablation

Another effective treatment for radiating back and leg pain is radiofrequency ablation, which uses heat generated by radio waves to target specific nerves and temporarily turn off their ability to send pain signals.


If your radiating pain stems from a herniated disc, Dr. Shah could recommend a microdiscectomy, a minimally invasive surgery to remove the herniated disc material that’s pressing on your nerve root or spinal cord.

If your leg hurts, and you can’t figure out the source, it could originate in your back. To find out for sure and get the best treatment possible, book an appointment online or call SamWell Institute for Pain Management in Livingston, Colonia, or Englewood, New Jersey.

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