Herniated disc leg cramps are sometimes experienced in conjunction with a lumbar herniated disc diagnosis. Leg cramps can be blamed on disc pain which comes from spinal stenosis or foraminal stenosis and generally exist due to theorized nerve compression issues involving the lumbar spinal nerve roots. However, there can be other spinal or localized explanations for leg cramping in association with a lower back pain condition. It is always best to seek qualified care from a neurological professional if nerve innervation issues are theorized to be the cause of pain. If muscular issues are deemed causative, then seeking care from a physical therapist may be the most appropriate treatment approach.
This article helps to uncover the potential causes of leg cramps and how these symptoms might be related to a herniated disc in the lower back or neck.
What are Leg Cramps?
Leg cramps are much akin to charlie horses and runner’s pains. They are characterized by constant and violent contractions of the leg muscles, enacting utter agony in affected sufferers. Some patients have widespread cramps, while others only suffer them in specific areas of the leg or foot anatomy. Some cramps are activity or positionally-dependent, while others can occur given any circumstances.
A few lucky patients have non-painful muscle spasms in which the muscles move involuntarily, but do not really cramp up and cause that gut-wrenching tightness suffered by other less fortunate patients.
Herniated disc leg cramps are typically known to continue until they take their course and resolve on their own. However, many patients find that actively stretching the painful area will decrease the severity of cramping and even shorten the duration of cramps significantly. This ability to relieve cramps through stretching helps provide some possible clues to a nonspinal causation in many patients.
Herniated Disc Leg Cramp Causes
Leg cramps are usually associated with muscular overexertion, not spinal injury, although trauma, circulatory concerns and nerve innervation problems can bring on cramping in some instances. If you ask your doctor about why you have leg cramps from a herniated disc, you will likely hear one of 2 possible explanations:
If the suspected source of symptoms is a pinched nerve, the disc will be theorized to be compressing the nerve which innervates the affected muscles. If there is evidence of a compressive neuropathy and the symptoms correlate by location, then this diagnostic conclusion may be correct. However, in many cases, it turns out to be invalid, since the location of the cramps is not correct or is too far ranging for the suspected nerve to create.
If the diagnostic theory is spinal stenosis, and true spinal cord compression exists, then the symptoms can take many possible forms, including leg cramps. A little known fact tells that leg symptoms can and do occur in many patients, regardless of the location of their central canal narrowing. In essence, although lumbar stenosis can cause herniated disc leg cramps, so can thoracic and cervical stenotic conditions.
My experience with tens of thousands of herniated disc sufferers has conclusively shown a completely different reason for their painful cramps. Many are suffering from neurological effects of the the implicated nerve roots, indeed. However, they are not suffering from a pinched nerve often blamed on a coincidental disc pathology. Instead, they are enduring a chronic ischemia syndrome which leaves the muscles, nerves and other bodily tissues prone to pain, tingling, weakness and numbness, as well as cramping. Remember, cramps generally come from a lack of oxygenation and there is no more direct source of this than actual ischemia.
Diagnosing Herniated Disc Leg Cramps
If you suffer from leg cramps which have been linked to a compressed nerve caused by your lumbar herniated disc condition, I strongly advise you to seek neurological correlation of the symptomatic location to the suspected source process. Misdiagnosis is a common iatrogenic occurrence in these scenarios, particularly in cases of foraminal stenosis, rather than central canal stenosis.
Odds are that these cramps come on when you are lying down or first getting up, since these are times of reduced oxygenation normally. The pain may be lessened with exercise or stretching, since these activities increase localized oxygen content. If this resonates with you, I urge you to consider ischemia as an alternative explanation for your pain.
It must be noted that in some patients, there are soft-tissue disorders creating leg pain and cramping. These may be related to extremely tight hamstrings or piriformis syndrome. Muscle imbalances and repetitive strain injury can cause cramping in some patients and some muscular locations. For these types of pain syndromes, which are also commonly incorrectly associated with coincidental lumbar disc abnormalities, I advise evaluation and treatment with a physical therapy professional.