Low Back and Leg Pain Causes: Into Thigh or On One Side

Simultaneous Back and Leg Pain Is Related to Nerves

Low back pain that radiates down your thighs or legs can have several different causes. It often starts without warning and can limit your ability to perform simple tasks, like sitting, rising from a chair, bending, or walking upright.

Low back and thigh pain can affect one or both sides. It may stop above the knee or go all the way to your foot. You may suspect sciatica, a well-known cause of pain in the back and thigh, but it may be one of several other problems.

This article examines the causes, symptoms, and treatments of lower back and thigh pain.

A woman working out the pain in her low back
Peter Dazeley / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images

Anatomy of Your Spine

The lumbar spine, also known as the low back, is composed of 5 bones called vertebrae that are stacked one upon another. Between the bones are soft, spongy discs. Your spinal cord runs down the center and nerves split off from it and exit between vertebrae.

Many nerves originate in the low back and travel down through the buttocks or legs. Some types of low back pain involve those nerves and cause pain along their entire length.

Hip joints—which include muscles, tendons, and ligaments—attach to the lumbar spine, giving it both mobility and stability.

By monitoring where you feel the pain and understanding how your pain changes, you can help your healthcare provider or physical therapist diagnose and find the best treatments for you.

Central Low Back Pain

Here are the most common symptoms of problems coming from the low back:

Central low back pain is usually caused by small disk bulges or muscular strain in the low back. This type of low back pain usually responds to gentle stretches and postural correction.

Central Low Back Pain With Pain Down Both Legs

This is very typical of a condition called spinal stenosis. This condition occurs when the spinal canal is too narrow and the nerves that travel down the legs are compressed.

The common presentation of stenosis is low back and leg pain that worsens with walking and is often relieved with sitting or bending forward at the waist. Research shows that physical therapy can effectively treat spinal stenosis and should be considered before any surgical intervention.

One-Sided Lower Back Pain Only Above the Thigh

This pain presentation is usually due to muscular strain and should readily respond to postural correction and gentle stretching. A small bulging disc may also cause this type of back pain.

Degenerative arthritis may cause bony overgrowth around a joint in your spine, which may also pinch a spinal nerve, leading to pain in your back or buttock.

One-Sided Lower Back Pain With Thigh Pain

Usually, pain that travels down the thigh is due to a pinched nerve. Nerves can be pinched by either a bulging or herniated disc, an arthritic facet joint, or an overgrowth of bony material, such as a bone spur. Pain may or may not be accompanied by numbness or tingling in the thigh, and muscle weakness may also be present.

One-Sided Lower Back Pain With Pain In the Lower Leg or Foot

Pain that travels from the low back to the lower leg is called sciatica. Many consider this to be the most severe presentation of low back pain. The pain may or may not be accompanied by numbness or tingling. This is usually caused by a pinched nerve from a lumbar disc, an arthritic joint, or a bone spur.

Emergency Symptoms

If you have pain with the sudden loss of strength or loss of bowel or bladder control, call 911 or get to an emergency room right away.

A Word From Verywell

Sometimes, episodes of low back pain are short-lived and go away without treatment. Once you begin to have low back pain, you may have more episodes and it can worsen due to factors such as posture and degenerative spine disease. It is important to maintain a strong and mobile spine to help prevent worsening low back pain. Basic exercises performed once or twice per day are a good way to keep your spine healthy.

By understanding where your pain is felt and what is possibly causing your pain, you can help your healthcare provider or physical therapist prescribe the best treatment for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does it mean when only one side of your lower back hurts?

    Pain on only one side of your lower back can be caused by soft tissue injuries, bone problems, or a problem with an internal organ. Common causes of pain on one side only include:

    • Arthritis
    • Bone spurs in the spine
    • Injury to muscles, discs, or joints
    • Problem with kidneys, pancreas, colon, or uterus
    • Spinal stenosis 
  • Can lower back pain radiate into the thigh?

    Yes, lower back pain that radiates to the thigh, buttocks, or hip is often caused by sciatica, an inflammation of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve runs from the lower spine through the hips and buttocks and down the leg.

  • What causes lower back pain and front thigh pain?

    Lower back pain that travels down the front of the thigh is usually caused by a pinched nerve. This can be caused by a bulging or herniated disc, an arthritic facet joint, or a bone spur.

  • How do I get rid of sciatic pain in my thigh?

    For short-term sciatic pain relief try ice, moist heat, topical pain-relieving creams, and over-the-counter NSAIDs. Talk to your healthcare provider about treatment options for longer-term solutions, including physical therapy and chiropractic.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine: StatPearls. Back Pain.

  2. Zaina F, Tomkins-Lane C, Carragee E, Negrini S. Surgical versus non-surgical treatment for lumbar spinal stenosisCochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;2016(1):CD010264. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD010264.pub2

  3. El Sayed M, Callahan AL. Mechanical back strain. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing.

  4. National Institutes of Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine: StatPearls. Sciatica.

  5. University of Pennsylvania: Penn Medicine. 4 reasons you may have back pain on only one side.

  6. National Institutes of Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Sciatica.

Additional Reading

By Brett Sears, PT
Brett Sears, PT, MDT, is a physical therapist with over 20 years of experience in orthopedic and hospital-based therapy.