Degenerative lumbar discs numbness, and other symptoms
As an Edinburgh osteopath for 27 years, I’ve seen my fair share of people with degenerative lumbar discs numbness and other symptoms. I’ve even written about it in my latest book on lower back pain.
Case study of Degenerative lumbar discs numbness etc.
Bob (not his real name) was a 72 year old retired lawyer. He was looking forward to a long retirement playing golf. But something was wrong. Over the last year he had slowly developed a weakness in his right leg. He didn’t feel he had the same push off that foot, especially when walking up hills. He also felt that the sole of his right foot was a “bit weird, like cotton wool between me and the ground”. He’d been to his family doctor who admitted to being puzzled.
I tested the skin sensation in his feet and legs. Sure enough, the sole of his right foot was less sensitive than his left foot. This is tested with fine, gentle touches and with pin pricks. Otherwise his sensation was normal. He still had good “Joint Position Sense”, where he could tell whether his big toe was being pushed up or down with his eyes closed. His ankle jerk on the right was missing but the one on the left was there. He was a bit weak when attempting to push up onto the toes of his right foot, but the left one was fine. Everything pointed towards a problem with his right S1 spinal nerve. The S1 spinal nerve contributes a branch to the sciatic nerve. Bob didn’t really have any lower back pain, or sciatic pain.
Degenerative lumbar discs
How could degenerative lumbar discs cause numbness and Bob’s symptoms? Actually this is quite common. As the discs get worn and thinner, the lumbar bones get closer together. There is plenty of room between the bones for the nerves in a healthy spine. But in an aging, degenerative spine it’s possible for the lumbar spinal nerves to become compressed where they exit the spine. This may cause lower back pain. But it often doesn’t. If the pressure on the nerves is low-grade but sustained, the flow of blood to the nerve is slowed. All nerves have a blood supply. If this flow of blood is slowed, the nerve starts acting up. This can cause numbness, pain, pins and needles and weakness in the distribution of that nerve.
You might think of your nerve being “trapped”. This is a phrase you might have used. It’s unhelpful. The nerve is very unlikely to be trapped. It’s much more likely to be inflamed and irritable. If there’s inflammation at the back of the disc (called “spondylitis”), this inflammation will be right next to the nerve. So the nerve gets inflamed. That causes it to play up too. It also slows up the flow of healthy blood to the nerve, causing further problems.
What to do for degenerative lumbar disc disease?
Follow the “Use it or Lose it but Don’t Abuse it” principle outlined here. Bob got a lot better over the following 5 weeks. It takes time, but these things can resolve if you follow the right advice and get great sciatica treatment from someone that knows what they’re dealing with, and how to do it.