How Can Disk Prolapse Cause Pain In The Feet?

Light bulb circuit cutThe brain is a main command centre where information is analysed and commands are given to different muscles in the body. The signals to and from the brain pass through the spinal-cord. There are 31 nerves that are attached to the spinal-cord which transmit these signals to and from the different parts of the body. The beginning of the nerve that is attached to the spinal-cord is called the nerve root. A disc prolapse in the lower back can press on the spinal nerve root and the condition is technically called radiculopathy. The latin word radix means root and the suffix pathy means disorder, thus radiculopathy means a disorder or a disease affecting the root of the spinal nerves. This usually causes back pain and pain down the leg. The pain in the back and down the leg is collectively called Sciatica. However sometimes a disc prolapse may not cause any back pain and only cause pain down the leg or maybe only in the foot and ankle. This is sometimes very difficult for patients to fathom. The patient may only feel pain in the leg, the knee or the foot and may not experience any pain in the lower back. In this situation they cannot understand how the problem in the lower back which seems so far away is the root cause of the problem. Sometimes this situation may also cause diagnostic dilemmas during a medical consultation.

Diagnosing Painful Feet

It is easy to understand this phenomenon with the following metaphor.

Consider an electric circuit within the house.

Imagine that one of the wires near the main switch board has been snipped. Consider that this was the wire to a light bulb in the other end of the building. Since the wire has been snipped the light bulb will not light up. It is customary to consider that the problem is with the light bulb and we may even attempt to change the light bulb. Changing the light bulb will not make any difference as that was not where the problem is. The problem is in the wire near the main switch board. Though the problem is near the switch board the effect is felt far away where the light bulb is situated. Similarly though a disc prolapse occurs in the lower back, but since it may compress the nerve to the knee or the foot the pain may only be felt in the knee or the foot. 

George Ampat

Consultant Orthopaedic Spinal Surgeon 

Authour of Simple Steps to Help with Back & Neck Pain. Available at Amazon