“If I’ve got back pain – Why am I getting a shooting pain down the back of my leg?”
This is a very common symptom we see in our PT clinic. In fact I would be extremely surprised if at least 10 people didn’t walk, (or hobble in with severe pain it causes), into the clinic each week with this very same complaint. I, myself, have suffered with this discomfort and know exactly how much it can get in the way of daily activities and hobbies. The first response to this pain by most is to go get on a heating pad and take meds to ease the pain and possibly a few exercises.
For some the response is to simply rest and hope for the pain to subside. Resting, generally for the lower back, is a big “no-no”, and medicine, although it might reduce the pain at first, is unlikely to solve the underlying root cause of this discomfort. Also, do you really want to have to take tablets every single day to simply mask a problem? Let me tell you, this is not a problem that can be swept under the rug!
There can be a few reasons why someone experiences a shooting/sciatic pain down the back of their leg and it is my job to identify through a thorough assessment what the cause might be.
One of the most common causes I see for this debilitating pain is due to a “slipped disc”. Most clients I see with this problem have heard of the term, “slipped disc”, however very few understand exactly what it is and why PT is vital in ensuring a quick recovery. Now, to understand why, you need to bear with me, (ANATOMY SPOILER ALERT!!):
What is a slipped disc?
Small fluid filled sacs (disc’s) sit between the bones in your back. I find it’s better to think of them as little jelly doughnuts, (little potentially painful jam doughnuts). Their purpose is to protect the bones in your back as you move about. As you bend forward, the discs are pinched at the front and the fluid inside the discs goes to the back. For example, imagine if you squeeze a jelly doughnut, the jelly inside will move away from where you are squeezing. Now imagine if you are in a job where you are always bending forwards/leaning forwards/picking up objects.
Eventually this repetitive squeezing of the disc will cause the wall of the disc to wear down and, just as if you squeeze a jelly doughnut too hard, the fluid will come out. However, instead of sticky jelly fingers that can be licked clean, you have a very painful shooting sciatic sensation, as the disc presses on the nerve (sciatic), that travels all the way down the back of your leg.
The problem if you completely rest this is that not only does the disc stay “slipped”, the muscles that control your lower back become weak, therefore providing less support to the already problematic area.
Physical therapy is therefore vital and can assist in the recovery of this painful problem.
Common treatment methods I use include total motion release activities, along with mobilizing the joints to encourage the disc to move off the nerves, deep tissue massage to loosen the muscles that become very tight to protect your lower back, as well as invaluable exercises and stretching advice. All these treatment methods are specific to you, as no two back problems are ever identical. Please – Don’t suffer any longer than you have too!