Symptoms of Numbness and Tingling in the Lower Back

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Numbness and tingling in the lower back and legs are symptoms of a malfunctioning peripheral nerve. A peripheral nerve is one that extends from the central nerves of the brain and spinal cord to all parts of the body.

The numbness and tingling are commonly referred to as peripheral neuropathy, a condition that may be acute (fast developing but typically short-lived) or chronic (ongoing or recurrent).

Numbness and tingling are possible if there is an abnormality, injury, or deterioration of the spine, which may impact the spinal cord and spinal nerves.

If the problem is higher up in the spine, such as the cervical vertebra of the neck, the symptoms are most likely to be experienced in the upper part of the body, including the arms and shoulders. If the problem is in the lumbar (lower) spine, the symptoms are more likely to be felt in the lower parts of the body, such as the lower back, buttocks, and legs.

This article explains the causes of numbness and tingling in the lower back as well as the three conditions most commonly associated with these symptoms.

Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

What Causes Numbness and Tingling

Lumbar spine problems can cause symptoms of tingling and numbness in the lower extremities. Many people expect that problems in the lumbar spine should cause symptoms of back pain. However, some of the most common symptoms of a lumbar spine problem are experienced in the lower extremities.

One important function of nerves is to provide information about sensations from the body to your brain. When these signals are damaged, interrupted, or irritated, the sensations can be experienced abnormally. This can manifest as sensations of numbness, tingling, prickling, or other abnormalities of the skin.

With many common spinal conditions, the nerves that travel to your brain are pinched or compressed due to a spinal injury or deterioration of the spine. This pressure on the nerve can cause abnormal sensations, commonly experienced as peripheral neuropathy.

Associated Spinal Conditions

Conditions that can cause tingling and numbness in the lower back and legs include herniated discs, spinal stenosis, and sciatica.

Herniated Discs

Discs are the soft cushions that sit between adjacent vertebrae. Normally, the disc is a flexible cushion that has good elasticity. In some circumstances, the elastic disc tissue can become less flexible and prone to injury.

When a disc herniation (bulging) occurs, some of that disc material is squeezed out of the disc and into the area around the spinal cord and spinal nerves. This can cause pressure on the nerves that exit the spinal cord, leading to symptoms such as pain, muscle weakness, and numbness.

The numbness corresponds to the nerve being pinched. For that reason, your healthcare provider will assess exactly where your numbness is located as it is likely to lead to the source of the problem.

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is the term used to describe the narrowing of the space around the spinal cord and spinal nerves. There are many reasons why that space can become narrowed, but the most common is spinal osteoarthritis or a related form of arthritis known as ankylosing spondylitis.

In both of these situations, the development of arthritis causes tissue thickening, osteophytes (bone spurs), and joint swelling. All of these problems can use up the extra space around the spinal cord and spinal nerves, leading to stenosis.

Spinal stenosis is often a more widespread problem of the spine, whereas disc herniations are more commonly focused on a specific nerve being irritated.


Sciatica is the irritation of the large nerve (called the sciatic nerve) that runs down the leg and is formed by the convergence of several spinal nerves.

Sciatic pain can occur anywhere along the sciatic nerve pathway from the lower back and buttock and the back of a thigh and calf. It commonly affects one side of the body only, causing pain ranging from a mild ache to a severe, jolting shock. Sitting for a long time can make it worse.

Sciatica can occur with spinal problems such as disc herniation and the formation of bone spurs between vertebrae or within the spinal canal. Less common causes include spinal tumors. Diabetes can also contribute by directly damaging the protective exterior coating of nerves, called myelin.

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.
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  2. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Spinal cord injury.

  3. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Spinal pain.

  4. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Herniated disk in the lower back.

  5. Lee SY, Kim T-H, Oh JK, Lee SJ, Park MS. Lumbar stenosis: a recent update by review of literatureAsian Spine J. 2015 Oct;9(5):818-28. doi:10.4184/asj.2015.9.5.818

  6. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Sciatica.

By Jonathan Cluett, MD
Jonathan Cluett, MD, is board-certified in orthopedic surgery. He served as assistant team physician to Chivas USA (Major League Soccer) and the United States men's and women's national soccer teams.