Having your legs feel like they’re giving out immediately grabs your attention. Fortunately, it’s rarely due to anything requiring urgent medical care, and often it’s a treatable issue related to muscles or nerves. Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons your legs may suddenly give out.
If a spinal nerve root located within the L1-S3 segments of your lower back is compressed, you may notice discomfort felt along the nerve’s pathway in your legs. The most common type of leg-related pain due to radiculopathy is sciatica, which results from irritation of the sciatic nerve.
The lengthy sciatic nerve starts within the L4-S1 segments of the lower spine and continues downward into the legs. You may also notice shooting pain that travels along the back of one leg and into your foot. Radiculopathy symptoms affecting legs may also include:
• Leg weakness or heaviness
• Numbness and/or tingling sensations (paresthesia) in the affected leg
• Difficulty lifting the affected foot or the entire leg
• Loss of balance or unsteadiness while walking
This condition is an abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal. Nerves that affect the legs can become irritated if either the spinal cord or spinal nerves are compressed. Structural problems such as tumors, herniated discs, bony overgrowths (bone spurs), and unusually thick spinal ligaments may make the abnormal narrowing worse and, depending on how severe the compression is, may need to be treated by a surgical procedure such as a foraminotomy. Santa Monica patients with central spinal stenosis may have leg-related symptoms such as:
• Weakness/instability extending to both legs
• Difficulty walking
• Issues with balance
• Pain that becomes noticeable after walking for a while (neurogenic claudication)
Diabetes that’s not managed well sometimes contributes to nerve and muscle damage in the legs and feet, and this often happens because of problems with circulation. Over time, a reduced blood supply can weaken leg muscles and contribute to symptoms that might include:
• Leg/ankle weakness
• Balance issues
• Leg pain that can be described as sharp or achy
• Burning sensations in the legs or feet
• Numbness and/or a loss of sensation affecting the legs and/or feet
Changes in sensation usually affect areas of the feet or lower legs covered by socks or stockings. Medication and the use of shoe inserts or special footwear usually helps with managing diabetic neuropathy.
While considered rare, cauda equina syndrome is one cause of leg weakness that requires immediate medical attention. It occurs when a damaged disc, tumor, or accumulated fluid (abscess) compresses the lower part of the spinal cord. Symptoms suggesting leg issues may be due to cauda equina syndrome include:
• Severe and sudden weakness felt in both legs
• Numbness felt in the groin, genitals, buttocks, or inner thigh area (saddle numbness)
• Difficulty with bowel movements or urination
With the exception of cauda equina syndrome, surgery is rarely necessary for most of the conditions discussed above. Many people respond well to medication, various forms of physical therapy, or a combination of hot and cold applications. However, it’s still important to receive an accurate diagnosis if you have any type of leg weakness or pain that’s either getting worse or not going away.
If your legs suddenly give out, it’s best to see your doctor or a Santa Monica spine surgeon as soon as possible to get a prompt diagnosis and start a treatment plan to relieve your symptoms. The industry pioneers at The Spine Institute are caring physicians with years of experience diagnosing and treating every type of spinal health issue. To schedule an appointment, call us today at 310-828-7757.