Patients that complain of shooting pain down one or both of their legs typically are experiencing a lumbar disc herniation. Disc herniations can be caused in a lot of ways. Bending and lifting or prolonged sitting on a trip can all contribute to disc herniations.
The “disc” is a soft tissue structure that lives between your vertebrae. The disc is responsible for creating increased movement between the vertebrae and helps disperse tension throughout the lumbar spine more efficiently. When one side of the disc is being overloaded and pushed down on, the internal aspect of the disc or the “nucleus” can push out and touch the nerve. This can happen from a specific traumatic moment, such as a car accident or weight lifting injury or repetitive movements over time like bending in a similar movement pattern over months or years at your job.
Think of a tree where it has one large trunk and large branches that come off of the trunk. Your spinal cord works much like a tree where the cord is the trunk and the branches equate to the specific nerve roots that run off of the cord. When the disc herniation is causing the nucleus to push on to the nerve root, shooting pain in the legs can occur. This pain can manifest as tingling, burning, shooting and in more extreme cases weakness.
Disc herniations can be diagnosed through a combination of orthopedist tests, history taking, functional assessments and ultimately imaging in the form of MRI.
If weakness is starting to occur in the lower extremities, it means the disc herniation has started to progress and needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Disc herniations that are severe and left untreated for too long of a period of time can cause permanent damage to the nerve roots.