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Pay Attention to the Signals Your Body is Sending You

Superficial palmar nerves.

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It is often curious when we realize that our calf or hand is numb.  We are almost in a state of disbelief.  We rub that body part in an attempt to ascertain if we are mistaken, can it really be so?  Numbness and its companion tingling are neurologic symptoms that are often the first signs that something is not quite right.  Numbness, tingling, and occasionally burning should be thought of as symptoms occurring when a nerve is not happy.  Remember hitting your “funny bone”?  When we hit our elbow where the ulnar nerve is very superficial we may feel a quick streak of numbness and tingling down the forearm into the pinkie finger.  This is the feeling that should be associated with nerve irritation.

I recently had two patients that presented with numbness in the leg.  One patient had symptoms that started in the calf then progressed to numbness and tingling in the toes.  The second patient said his entire leg would go numb if he moved back and to the left.  These symptoms both were occurring due to a disc bulge that was off center and pushing laterally onto the nerve root sending symptoms down the leg.

Most disc injuries start with central low back pain.  Patients often complain of increased low back pain with sitting more than 20 minutes that is relieved with standing and walking.  Twisting is usually something that the disc doesn’t like and may produce a “zinger” down the leg.  Usually only one leg is affected, but on occasion patients may have pain in both legs.  If treatment is delayed or unsuccessful and the injury worsens, the pain may spread into the buttock and then proceed down the leg.  The pain may be accompanied by numbness and tingling.  If the symptoms continue below the knee, they may be more difficult to treat.

These symptoms are often treated successfully with the McKenzie Technique which is a series of lumbar extension exercises or bending backwards.  Although there are books about treating your own back, it is often necessary to have a PT help you with these exercises as they may work laying down in a gravity neutral position but not in standing with the affects of gravity present.  Ice is always helpful for inflammation and pain.  Your doctor should also be involved in management of discogenic symptoms as some patients may benefit from anti-inflammatory medication, oral or injected steroids that will decrease the size of the inflamed disc and reduce the pressure on the nerve root.

For questions or concerns regarding back pain, numbness or tingling you may contact Mary Boyd, MS, PT owner of Mountain View Physical Therapy at 290-5575.

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