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  • Danielle Labuschagne

Nerve root irritation – “the sleeping foot / leg”

Have you ever experienced a sharp burning pain, shockwave type pain, a sleeping leg or foot and pins and needles prickling your skin? It sometimes feels weak like you cannot move your leg and it could be very painful. These are signs of a nerve root being irritated.

Why is your leg sleeping?

Where your nerve exits your spinal canal it is known as a nerve root. Narrowing of the canal where your nerve root exits the spinal canal (due to degeneration, bone formation or injury) could cause pressure or irritation of the nerve root. If this occurs in your lower back, it might result in your leg or your foot or parts thereof to feel “sleepy”. You could commonly experience weakness, a loss of sensation or pins and needles sensation and pain shooting down your leg. If this occurs in your neck, you could experience these symptoms down your arm. This is also called radiculopathy.

The nerve then branches out to the muscles, skin and structures it supplies. Along its journey different types of tissue such as bone, ligaments, tendons, muscles and organs surround the nerve. If these structures cause irritation of the nerve along its way, you might also experience pain and pins and needles in your arms/ legs. This is often due to muscle spasms, swelling and inflammation.

Signs of nerve root irritation / compression:

- Lower back or neck pain

- One-sided sharp shooting, burning, stinging pain radiating into your buttock, leg or foot OR down your arm to your hand.

- Numbness and pins and needles down leg / arm

- Weakness of some of the muscles is the leg or arm

How to wake up your leg?

If there is complete compression of your nerve root resulting in severe pain, loss of muscle function and sensation, you might have to be referred to a neurosurgeon for further assessment.

Sometimes something as simple as anti-inflammatory medication might be the espresso shot your leg needed.


- Soft tissue treatment like deep massage to relieve muscle spasms, improve circulation to decrease swelling and inflammation and promote healing of soft tissue.

- Spinal mobilisations to try to open up the canal that might be irritating or compressing the nerve root. Thus decreasing compression and improving circulation and blood supply to the nerve root.

- Spinal traction treatment to open up the compressed canal.

- Neural mobilisations to improve blood supply and nutrition to the nerve that is irritated or compressed.

- Electrotherapy modalities like TENS and ultrasound to improve circulation and decrease inflammation to improve the healing response.

- Exercise and techniques for self-treatment at home.

… No more snooze buttons; lets wake up that leg …

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