Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Why would one feel pain in the lower back and down the leg?"
My husband's been complaining of pain in his lower back that he says is 'radiating' down into his upper thigh and down his leg. Is this a symptom of spinal cancer? Should I have him go to the doctor?
Back pain, especially pain that radiates down the leg is a very common complaint. This type of pain is called radicular pain. It is called this because it indicates that a nerve is pinched as it comes out of the spinal cord. Although radicular pain can be caused by a tumor, it is much more commonly caused by a bulging disc. Bulging discs are caused by general wear and tear, but can sometimes get noticed after heavy lifting. Essentially what happens is that the cartilage between the spinal column pieces bulges out and presses on a nerve that is heading on its way down the leg. This causes pain, especially when the leg is raised from the lying position. The treatment of choice for a bulging disc is physical therapy and (in the right person) anti-inflammatory drugs. There is a surgery available, but it should be used as a last resort. I suggest that you schedule an appointment for your husband with his primary care physician. He or she can take a more detailed history of how the pain started and perform a thorough physical exam. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, or if the diagnosis is in question, his doctor may order an MRI of the spine. I hope he feels better.
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