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Leg numbness - causes, treatment and prevention
Many people know the feeling of numbness in the legs, but only a few are aware of the very serious causes that can be behind this apparently harmless phenomenon. The feeling of numbness in the legs should in no way be dismissed lightly and requires a medical examination, especially if it occurs repeatedly.
Leg numbness - an overview
There can be various causes of numbness in the leg, many of which require therapeutic care. In order to enable a classification of the complaint picture, first the most important facts in advance:
- definition: Feeling of numbness in the legs is a sensation disorder in the area between the hip and the sole of the foot, which can be associated with impaired perception of pain, pressure and temperature or even paralysis.
- causes: Circulatory disorders (e.g. with hardening of the arteries, but also heart attack), compression of the supplying nerves (nerve pinched; e.g. due to a herniated disc) or diseases of the nervous system (such as multiple sclerosis), a present fibromyalgia, tumor diseases (which press on nerve tracts) or a stroke (one-sided numbness).
- A visit to the doctor is generally requiredif there is numbness in the legs. If accompanying symptoms such as headache, visual disturbances, speech disturbances, hemiplegia, paralysis of consciousness, chest pain, shortness of breath, pain in the arm and tightness in the chest occur, contact the emergency services immediately as this could be a stroke, in which every second counts.
- treatment: Basically based on the causes of the symptoms, with a pinched nerve, especially a combination of massage and physiotherapy, possibly medication for pain and to relax tense muscles, but sometimes also an operation; often only limited treatment options for nervous disorders and no prospect of healing; in the case of circulatory disorders, often with medication, but possibly also with surgery.
- Naturopathy and holistic medicine: For example, accompanying use of acupuncture and manual therapies for nerve compression, hydrotherapy and alternating showers for circulatory disorders or movement therapy for various forms of numbness.
- Feeling of numbness in the legs can occur locally, for example exclusively in the thigh, or affect the entire leg.
- The symptoms usually take an acute course, but the numbness can also become a chronic condition.
- Not infrequently associated with tingling in the limbs and difficulty walking.
- The numbness in the legs may also be accompanied by foot pain.
- Often occurs only in certain positions (long sitting, legs crossed).
- According to the different triggers of the symptoms, numerous other accompanying symptoms can be observed, which also provide an indication of the cause of the numb feeling in the legs.
Causes of numbness in the legs
The feeling of numbness is usually one Impairment of the supplying nerves underlying. For example, in the event of a herniated disc, the nerve tracts can be pinched in the spinal canal. As a result, those affected not only suffer from severe low back pain or back pain, but often also from pain and a numb feeling in the legs.
If a nerve is pinched, feelings of numbness, along with the typical tingling (paraesthesia), pain and paralysis, are one of the main symptoms. If the sciatic nerve is trapped, the complaints are particularly common in the legs. Many sufferers complain of severe sciatic pain that radiates from the back to the legs. This is sometimes the case both with a herniated disc and with an acute lumbago.
The supplying nerves of the legs can also be pinched at other narrow points on their way through the body, with a corresponding nerve compression more often affecting the nerve pathways, which originate from the lumbosacral plexus (a nerve network in the area of the lumbar and cross spine). These are, for example, clamped by the inguinal ligament as part of a so-called meralgia paraesthetica, and in addition to hip pain, those affected often suffer from numbness on the outside of the thigh. The so-called piriformis syndrome describes a narrowing of the sciatic nerve by the piriformis muscle in the pelvic area. This compression can cause severe buttocks pain, leg pain and also numbness in the legs.
But not only pinching the nerves but also Nervous system disorders may bring a recurring numbness in the legs. Examples include multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease. A disease of diabetes or high blood sugar can also damage the nervous system and thus trigger corresponding complaints. The resulting so-called diabetic neuropathy is quite often one of the first symptoms of numbness in the legs. So-called polyneuropathy, which manifests itself as a disease of several nerves in the peripheral nervous system, should also be mentioned as a possible trigger for numbness in the legs. The polyneuropathies can have very different causes - for example, alcohol abuse, infectious diseases, vitamin B12 deficiency or rare diseases such as Guillain-Barré syndrome and Churg-Strauss syndrome. Furthermore, acute poisoning can lead to impairment of the nervous system, which is accompanied by numbness in the legs.
Circulatory disorders are also a possible trigger for numbness in the legs. They can indicate general heart failure, but they can also be an expression of an acute vascular occlusion (thrombosis) or, in the worst case, even a heart attack. If patients suddenly get fat legs or are accompanied by symptoms such as chest pain, heart pain or a stinging in the chest, heart stumbling and rapid heartbeat, a doctor should be called in immediately. A chronic circulatory disorder in the legs often results from arterial calcification or diseases of the cardiovascular system such as coronary artery disease.
Another possible trigger for numbness in the legs is the so-called Fibromyalgia, which as an incurable chronic disease affects the muscle fibers in different parts of the organism. The numbness in the extremities is one of the numerous side effects that fibromyalgia can bring.
A one-sided feeling of numbness in the legs may be the result of a stroke. In addition to severe headaches, visual disturbances and speech disorders, this often results in a half-sided paralysis that can extend into the legs.
In rare cases, the compression of the nerves and the associated numbness in the legs is also triggered by benign or malignant tumors that press on the nerve pathways in the brain or spinal canal.
Last but not least, bruising and broken bones, for example as a result of an accident, may also be associated with nerve compression. The same applies to persistent incorrect loads, such as the case report of a cross-fit athlete, which was described in the English-language specialist magazine “PM&R”. The man had had numbness in his legs for weeks.
A description of the symptoms, their intensity and information about the situations in which numbness occurs in the legs can often already be guessed at what causes the symptoms. A physical examination offers further clues. Scanning and a few simple movement tests can often limit the diagnosis relatively reliably. Complementary blood tests in the laboratory provide information on inflammatory processes in the organism, a possibly existing vitamin deficiency or also on diseases such as multiple sclerosis and the Churg-Strauss syndrome.
Sensitivity and reflex testing are used to diagnose polyneuropathy. For this purpose, measurements of the nerve conduction speed are also used. To determine compressions of the nerves, imaging methods such as sonography (ultrasound), computer tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or classic X-ray images are also used. The combination of imaging methods (especially ultrasound) and blood tests also serves to confirm the diagnosis of any vascular occlusion in the legs.
Treatment for numbness in the legs
The therapy is fundamentally based on the causes of the symptoms and can therefore vary greatly. In most cases of a pinched nerve, the combination of massage and physiotherapy promises successful treatment. In addition to the feeling of numbness, those affected also suffer from pain, pain-relieving medication can be used, a muscle relaxant for muscle tension. Under certain circumstances, however, the complaints can only be eliminated with the help of a surgical intervention. For example, surgery is required in rare cases of a herniated disc.
With diseases such as Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis, based on the medical options available today, no cure can yet be achieved and the therapy therefore focuses on alleviating the symptoms and slowing the course of the disease.
If the feeling of numbness in the legs is due to circulatory disorders due to acute vascular occlusion, an attempt is made to resolve this with the help of medication. Anticoagulant and blood-thinning preparations are also said to facilitate blood flow. So-called compression stockings serve the same purpose. If the circulatory disorder is due to a cardiac insufficiency, an operation may also be necessary here, in the course of which a bypass or a pacemaker is implanted, for example.
In the current treatment guidelines for fibromyalgia syndrome, a combination of physiotherapy, occupational therapy, physical procedures, medication, psychotherapy and psychological procedures is recommended.
Benign ulcers that narrow the nerves, like malignant tumors, are surgically removed in most cases. The other two cancer therapy instruments, radiation and chemotherapy, may also be used for malignant tumors.
Naturopathy relies on acupuncture for manual complaints such as osteopathy, chiropractic or Rolfing for complaints caused by pinched nerves. In accordance with their holistic approach, complaints in other parts of the body, such as neck tension, are also taken into account and included in the treatment.
Various herbal medicinal products, homeopathic remedies and Schuessler salts are used to alleviate existing pain in the pinched nerves. Hydrotherapy (e.g. Kneipp water, treading water) is increasingly used to combat numbness due to circulatory disorders. Since muscle-related nerve compression and the associated numbness are also associated with the acid-base balance or an overacidification of the organism, naturopathic treatment often aims to achieve an appropriate balance here.
Exercises from the field of yoga, tai chi or qi gong can positively support the treatment for numbness in the legs and have a preventive effect. However, already irritated nerves should be spared and not further stressed.
For alternative treatment methods, however, there is currently no overall evidence of their effectiveness against the complaints mentioned, and naturopathy does not offer any promising therapeutic approaches for certain causes of numbness, such as cancer. The methods are therefore not to be understood as a substitute for conventional treatments, but rather as a supplement that generally requires prior consultation with a doctor. (fp)
Image 1: neurolle - Rolf / pixelio.de
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Dipl. Geogr. Fabian Peters
- William S. David, Michael P. Bowley, William A. Mehan, John H. Shin, Elizabeth R. Gerstner, John C. DeWitt: Case 19-2017 - A 53-Year-Old Woman with Leg Numbness and Weakness; in The New England Journal of Medicine, June 22, 2017, nejm.org
- Mendoza, Erika: Other leg diseases. In: Guide varicose veins, leg swelling and thrombosis. Springer, 2016, pages 89-102
- German Pain Society: Definition, Pathophysiology, Diagnostics and Therapy of Fibromyalgia Syndrome, Guideline Fibromyalgia Syndrome, 2nd Update 2017, DGPPN
- Michael Pourfar: The numb and the restless Peripheral neuropathy and RLS; in Neurology 72 (11): 950-1, April 2009, researchgate
- Stephan Esser, Mckennan Thurston, Krishna Nalluri, Aurelio Muzaurieta: “Numb-Leg” in a CrossFit Athlete: A Case Presentation, in PM&R, August 2017, Volume 9, Issue 8, pages 834-836, sciencedirect.com
- Dan Ziegler, Jutta Keller, Christoph Maier, Jürgen Pannek: Diabetic Neuropathy; in diabetology and metabolism 2018; 13 (S 02), page 230-236, deutsche-diabetes-gesellschaft.de