What is causing my leg pain?

There are many potential sources of leg pain. The nerves that provide motor and sensory function to the legs start in the lower back. These are called the lumbar nerves. Leg pain that starts in the lower back and radiates down the leg is often referred to as ‘sciatica.’

Some causes of leg pain from a lumbar spine problem include:

Disk Herniation

where the soft cushion between the bony vertebrae of the spine herniates from its normal position and causes compression of the lumbar nerves

Lumbar stenosis

from overgrowth of bone and/or ligament that can occur with arthritic aging changes or degenerative changes of the spine. This can cause pressure on the lumbar nerves

Foraminal Stenosis

each lumbar nerve leaves the lower back as it travels to the leg. The small bone openings on the side of the spine where the nerves exit are called ‘foramen.’ Each foramen contains one nerve and pressure can occur on this nerve from arthritic joint changes, degeneration of disks or in patients with spondylolisthesis.


‘slipped spine’ this occurs when there is either weak bone or severe degeneration of the joints in the spine which can lead to slippage of one vertebrae on another leading to narrowing of the spinal canal or foramen. The narrowing of these spaces can then cause pressure on the lumbar nerves.

Facet Joint Cysts

inflammatory cysts that arise from the joints of the spine due to joint arthritis

More Causes

Rarely infections or tumors of the lumbar spine such as schwannomas, neurofibromas or metastatic tumors can present with leg pain.

Certainly, not all leg pain is due to a lumbar spine issue but it is often the first place looked at and why your doctor may have ordered a lumbar MRI for your leg pain. There are many other causes of leg pain including vascular causes, peripheral neuropathy, peripheral nerve problems, inflammatory problems, blood clots, muscle strains, bone and ligament injuries etc.

Fortunately, most patients with lumbar spine problems causing leg pain can be treated with non-operative treatments including Physical Therapy, NSAIDs, and spinal injections. Occasionally, surgery is required. If you’re experiencing leg pain call us for an appointment to see one of our specialists!