What causes symptoms into the arms or legs?
Whenever someone comes in to my office and has symptoms down either their arms or legs, I need to determine what is the cause. The term ‘Sciatica’ and ‘Pinched Nerve’ are thrown around a lot; often incorrectly but do fit into some reasons that cause symptoms down the extremities. These symptoms are often described as a numbness or tingling and normally mean that the nervous system is involved.
First of all, this blog will speak more to the neuromusculoskeletal (nerves, muscles, skeletal) reasons for symptoms down the extremities. There are other reasons that someone may experience some of these symptoms and may include more systemic or visceral (organ) concerns and should be followed up with by a medical doctor.
When someone comes in to my office with symptoms down their extremities, I need to rule out a few more serious things that would change my treatment plan.
The big conditions that must be ruled out immediately are stroke and heart attack. Often the mechanism of the injury and the presentation will easily be able to determine if this is a serious episode or not.
So I determined that the patient does not need to go to the hospital… now what?
Being a Chiropractor, my list for symptoms down extremities from more serious to less serious is:
1.) Disc issue
2.) Stenosis of the spinal canal
3.) Nerve impingement
A disc issue is referring to a disc herniation or disc bulge. In between the bones in your spine there is a structure called a disc. When this disc moves back it can affect the nerves at the spinal level and symptoms go down the extremities. This can present with debilitating symptoms.
So now moving to stenosis of the spinal canal. This is often in an elderly population because the stenosis (narrowing) of the spinal canal is often due to degeneration. When stress is put on an area, there is increased bone growth at that area (degeneration / arthritis). With that increased bone, the spinal canal narrows and can affect those nerves at the spinal level.
Nerve impingement can be due to a few different reasons but what this means is a nerve is affected not at the spinal level. It would be located after the nerves leave the spine and start to go to the arms or legs. An impingement can be due to inflammation, degeneration, or tight muscles.
Certain joints can result in symptoms down the extremities. This is called a referral pattern. When the joint is injured, irritated, or restricted then symptoms can refer down the arm or leg.
Muscles have certain referral patterns as well that feel like symptoms down the extremities. This often occurs when a muscle is injured or tight. As previously mentioned, there are a few conditions where a tight muscle may also affect a surrounding nerve resulting in a nerve impingement condition.
There is a lot to think about and determine before an appropriate diagnosis can be said when someone comes in for symptoms down their arms or legs.
If you are experiencing any symptoms like this, don’t hesitate to contact us! Also, keep a look out for future blogs as the next few may delve further into some of these conditions.