If your legs become weak or suddenly go numb, there are several possible culprits, and some of them require immediate medical attention. The problem can stem from a neurological source, a lack of blood supply, or a brain malfunction, which is why you should never ignore unexplained leg weakness.
Dr. Patrick McNulty at McNulty Spine in Las Vegas and Henderson, Nevada, can get to the root cause of your leg weakness and develop a personalized treatment plan to get your strength back, and back on your feet.
Since there are several different potential reasons for your symptoms, it’s important to seek the help of an experienced specialist like Dr. McNulty, our double-board certified, award-winning orthopedic surgeon. He can identify the most complex conditions, from kyphosis to scoliosis, and treat them effectively.
Conditions that cause leg weakness
Several conditions list leg weakness as one of the likely symptoms, and some of them are very serious, including:
- Sciatica from herniated disc
- Spinal stenosis from age related spinal canal narrowing
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Peripheral vascular disease
- Spinal tumors or lesions
If you have unexplained leg weakness or numbness and you or someone nearby notices additional signs of a possible stroke, call 911 immediately.
While these conditions are certainly possible, the most common reasons for leg weakness are less of an emergency and more easily treated. Pinched or compressed nerves in your spine are the primary cause of leg weakness, and sciatica is one of the main culprits.
The link between sciatica and leg weakness
The term sciatica refers to a group of symptoms that affect the longest nerve in your body, the sciatic nerve. It begins in your lower back, also known as your lumbar spine, splits into two branches, then travels through each buttock and down the length of each leg. It splits again in your knee and keeps going all the way down to your feet.
If something irritates, pinches, or compresses your sciatic nerve in your back, you may feel the repercussions anywhere along the path. Those symptoms include:
- Pain in your back
- Pain in your buttocks
- Tingling, pins and needles
- Numbness in your legs or feet
If you experience pain, it may come on gradually and feel like a dull ache, or it could hit suddenly like a sharp burning sensation. In extreme cases, sciatica can affect your bladder or bowel control, a sign you may have Cauda Equina syndrome. This is an emergency and go to the hospital.
Sciatica: Is it or isn’t it?
It’s best not to self-diagnose when you have weakness in your legs, since it may be any one of the dangerous conditions we mentioned above.
Dr. McNulty uses advanced technology to reach an accurate diagnosis, since the proper treatment depends on the root cause.
In addition to a physical exam where Dr. McNulty examines the movements and positions that trigger your symptoms, he also performs diagnostic imaging tests to narrow down the exact cause of your compressed nerve.
Things that pinch your sciatic nerve
There are several things that can press up against your sciatic nerve and trigger sciatica. Injuries and infections that lead to inflammation can irritate the nerve, tumors that grow on or in your spine can push on your nerves, spinal stenosis (a condition that narrows the space in your spine) can do it, as can Spondylolisthesis (when one of your vertebrae slips out of position).
As you get older and your vertebrae and spinal discs degenerate, sciatica becomes more likely. It could happen when you least expect it, like when you lift a heavy box, twist a certain way, or by doing nothing at all — and by that we mean leading a sedentary life.
Overweight and obese people have a higher risk of sciatica, but there’s no guarantee that those at a healthy weight won’t suffer from it at some point.
The good news is that Dr. McNulty can treat whatever’s pinching your sciatic nerve. From physical therapy to anti-inflammatory injections, he can often get you out of pain without much hassle.
In some cases, he may need to perform minimally invasive surgical procedures that widen the space in your spine and open up room for your sciatic nerve to move freely, or fuse two vertebrae together so they stop compressing your nerve each time they move.
The only way to know for sure what’s causing your leg weakness and other symptoms and get the right treatment is to schedule a consultation with Dr. McNulty. Request an appointment online or call our friendly staff at either location today.