Numbness and weakness in your arms or legs? It may be your back

Parts of your spinal cord below the neck or some of the many nearby nerves may be the cause of numbness and weakness in the arms, hands or legs.

If you experience frequent numbness and weakness in your arms or legs, the issue may be in your back.

Over time, the gradual wear and tear of the vertebrae protecting the spinal cord can lead to compression of the spinal cord or the nerve roots that run through the openings between the bones of the spine.

Starting with your primary care provider, describe your symptoms in as much detail as possible to assist in a quick and accurate diagnosis.

“Certain parts of the spinal cord are responsible for the function of particular body parts. Therefore clear information about where a patient is experiencing symptoms can help providers pinpoint where the damage has occurred,” said Kimathi W. Doss, M.D., neurosurgeon and spine surgeon with Norton Neuroscience Institute.

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In addition to a physical exam, tests may include X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) scans or bone scans.

More severe symptoms such as loss of bladder or bowel control, weakness, sensory changes, difficulties with gait/balance or fine motor skills may be a sign of spinal cord injury. If you experience any of these, seek immediate medical attention.

For less severe cases there are multiple ways to treat symptoms. They include physical therapy, oral medications and injections. Physical therapy can include strengthening, conditioning, flexibility massage, dry needling and hydrotherapy.

Routine medications include anti-inflammatories, oral steroids, muscle relaxers and occasional pain medications. There are multiple forms of injections that can help, including epidural injections, facet injections, transforaminal blocks, caudal blocks and radiofrequency ablations. All of these can be used independently or together to improve symptoms and quality of life.

Reduce your risk of developing spinal cord injury

  • Proper lifting techniques help to prevent sudden injury to the spine.
  • Maintain a healthy body mass to decrease strain and fatigue of the paraspinal muscles.
  • Avoid awkward positions.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle.

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