Numbness and tingling are symptoms of a malfunctioning nerve. These are often evaluated as possible signs of an abnormality with the spine. The spinal cord and spine nerves are the link from your brain to your extremities. Where there is an abnormality of the spinal cord, or the nerves branching off the spinal cord, this may be experienced by patients with numbness or tingling.
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Generally, if the problem is higher up in the spine, in the neck or cervical area, the numbness and tingling are most likely to be experienced in the upper extremity.
If the problem is in the lower spine, or lumbar region, the symptoms are more likely to be felt in the lower extremity.
Causes of Lower Back Numbness and Tingling
Lumbar Spine Problems
Lumbar spine problems can cause symptoms of tingling and numbness in the lower extremities. Many patients expect that problems in the lumbar spine should cause symptoms of back pain. However, often they don’t expect that some of the most common symptoms of a lumbar spine problem are experienced in the lower extremities.
One important function of nerves is to provide information about sensations from the body to your brain. When these signals are damaged, interrupted, or irritated, the sensations can be experienced abnormally. This can manifest as sensations of numbness, tingling, prickling, or other abnormalities of the skin.
In many common spine conditions, these nerves that travel to your brain are pinched or compressed.
This pressure on the nerve can cause abnormal sensations, commonly experienced as tingling or numbness.
When the nerve that runs from your foot to your brain is pinched, you may experience a numb foot — even if that nerve is pinched all the way up in your back. This is the same reason your hand experiences tingling when you bump your “funny bone.”
Conditions that can cause nerve pressure leading to tingling and numbness include:
- Herniated Discs: Discs are the soft cushions that sit between adjacent vertebrae. Normally, the disc is a flexible cushion that has good elasticity. In some circumstances, the elastic disc tissue can become less flexible, and prone to injury. When a disc herniation occurs, some of that disc material is squeezed out of the disc and into the area around the spinal cord and spinal nerves. This can cause pressure on the nerves that exit the spinal cord, leading to symptoms of pain, muscle weakness, and numbness. The numbness should correspond very directly to the nerve being pinched. For that reason, your doctor will assess exactly where your numbness is located, as it is likely to lead him or her to the source of your problem.
- Spinal Stenosis: Spinal stenosis is the word used to describe the narrowing of the space around the spinal cord and spinal nerves. There are many reasons why that space can become narrowed, but the most common in spinal arthritis. In this situation, arthritis caused tissue thickening, bone spurs, and joint swelling. All of these problems can use up the extra space around the spinal cord and spinal nerves leading to stenosis. Spinal stenosis is often a more widespread problem of the spine whereas disc herniations are more commonly focused on a specific nerve being irritated.
- Sciatica: Sciatica is the name given to the irritation of the large nerve going down the leg that is formed from the confluence of several spinal nerves. The sciatic nerve is a peripheral nerve (outside the spinal cord area), and therefore irritation of this nerve does not occur directly at the spine. However, sciatica can occur with problems around the spine and low back.