The human body has so many checks and balances to tell our brain what is going on in our environment and our body. Everybody knows about the major five senses: taste, sight, hearing, olfaction (smell), and touch. Of those five, it’s hard to find one that would not be considered important. Various conditions or injuries can greatly affect these senses, such as a stroke or a burn. Back pain is no different. When it comes to low back pain, touch can often be impaired due to nerve irritation. This can lead to subtle changes in sensation, ranging from something like a small “pins and needles” feeling to complete numbness of the affected area.
To an extent, these changes in sensation can be harmless. Losing sensation in an area like your lower thigh or the outer portion of your calf rarely affects day to day function. However, numbness should not be considered a normal event, and it generally means that there is something wrong somewhere. Anytime there’s numbness, it’s important to consider a few different things.
Below are some things that indicate that you need to see your primary care physician as soon as possible when numbness occurs.
- Location – Location, location, location. As mentioned above, certain areas are relatively less threatening than others. If you have numbness in yours hands, feet, or groin, however, you don’t want to ignore those symptoms. For the hands and feet, these areas are generally in contact with our environment and are our main organs for touch. You may not realize if a cup is too hot or that you’ve stepped on a sharp object. If there’s numbness around the groin or genitalia, you need to see your primary care provider immediately.
- Change or Progression – Keep note of any changes in location (spreading or moving) or changes in intensity. Also look for any additional symptoms that may develop over time such as muscle weakness or changes to your bowel/bladder function, as these require immediate treatment.
- Behavior – Note when your numbness comes on. For example, if it’s only while you sleep in bed or sit in a certain chair, being aware of your positioning may be all that’s necessary. If the numbness is always there, that’s more of a problem.
To summarize, numbness can be a cause for major concern when: it’s present in the groin or genitalia, the location/intensity of numbness is rapidly worsening, or the numbness has become constant. Other signs that are considered emergent are if there is sudden muscle weakness or sudden changes in bowel/bladder function. These cases will typically require more immediate attention, typically from your primary care provider or potentially emergency services.
For other cases, it would still be a good idea to see your primary care provider or a physical therapist. While numbness can be harmless, it is a sign that something is affecting your nerves, and that should not be ignored.
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***The above information, including text, images, and all other materials, is provided for educational purposes only, and not as a replacement or supplement to professional medical advice. Please contact a certified healthcare professional or your primary physician for any personal concerns.