What causes shooting pain and then pins and needs in my leg?

Physical Therapy in Bedford and Irving for Lower Back

Q: I've been having some strange leg pain on the left side. First it was shooting pain down the leg. Now it feels like pins and needles, and sometimes I get an electric shock sensation. What could be causing this?

A: All of the descriptions you just provided suggest a neurogenic source of pain. That means something in the nervous system is affected. Neuropathic pain can occur as a result of injury or destruction to the peripheral nerves (coming out of the spinal cord), pathways in the spinal cord, or neurons located in the brain.

This type of pain does not occur as a result of tissue damage, but rather by malfunction of the nervous system itself. For some reason, there is a disruptions in the sending and receiving of nerve impulses. The result is a change in the way you perceive touch, pressure, and/or temperature.

Neurogenic pain can be drug-induced, metabolic based, or brought on by trauma to the sensory neurons or pathways in either the peripheral (spinal nerve roots) or central nervous system.

It is usually described as sharp, shooting, burning, tingling, or producing an electric shock sensation. The pain is steady or evoked by some stimulus that is not normally considered noxious (e.g., light touch, cold). Some affected individuals report aching pain.

There is no muscle spasm in neurogenic pain. Acute nerve root irritation tends to be severe, described as burning, shooting, and constant. Chronic nerve root pain is more often described as annoying or nagging.

It is best to have a medical doctor examine you to determine the cause of these symptoms. Early diagnosis and treatment to amend the problem can save you years of chronic nerve pain that is difficult to treat.

Reference: Daniel Ciampi de Andrade, et al. Neurophysiological Assessment of Spinal Cord Stimulation in Failed Back Surgery Syndrome. In PAIN. September 2010. Vol. 150. No. 3. Pp. 485-491.

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