Managing Leg Dominant Pain

Yoga Raja Rampersaud, MD, FRCSC,1 Julia Alleyne, BHSc(PT), MD, CCFP, Dip. Sport Med MScCH,2 Hamilton Hall, MD, FRCSC,3

1Associate Professor Department of Surgery, University of Toronto, Divisions of Orthopaedic and Neurosurgery, University Health Network Medical Director, Back and Neck Specialty Program, Altum Health, Immediate Past President Canadian Spine Society, Toronto, ON.
2Associate Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of Toronto, Medical Director, Sport CARE, Women’s College Hospital, Toronto, ON.
3Professor, Department of Surgery, University of Toronto; Medical Director, Canadian Back Institute; Executive Director, Canadian Spine Society, Toronto, ON.

CLINICAL TOOLS

Abstract: Leg dominant pain suggests direct nerve root involvement: radicular, not referred symptoms. Constant pain associated with positive neurological findings usually results from an acute disc herniation. Symptoms are the result of mechanical compression but principally reflect an inflammatory response, properly designated sciatica. Intermittent leg dominant pain triggered by activity in extension and relieved by rest in flexion probably represents neurogenic claudication: nerve root ischemia secondary to spinal stenosis. Except for acute cauda equina syndrome, acute sciatica is initially managed with scheduled rest, adequate medication, and time. Non-responsive cases may require surgery. Surgery also shows superior outcomes for disabling neurogenic claudication.
Key Words:leg dominant pain, sciatica, neurogenic claudication, cauda equina syndrome, surgery.

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True spine-generated, leg dominant pain is consistently reproduced by particular spinal movements or positions.
No imaging investigation is required for a patient presenting an unequivocal clinical picture and exhibiting steady predictable improvement.
Of the four back pain syndromes, only neurogenic claudication is consistently best treated by surgery.
In contrast to the back dominant cases, in sciatica there is a definite role for short-acting narcotics or psychotropic drugs for uncontrolled pain.
Criteria for Surgical Referral
Emergency Referral The symptoms of Cauda Equina Syndrome are: - Urinary retention followed by insensible urinary overflow. - Unrecognized fecal incontinence. - Loss or decrease in saddle/perineal sensation. Acute Cauda Equina Syndrome is a surgical emergency.
Consider Elective Referral Failure to respond to a trial of conservative care: - Unbearable constant leg dominant pain. - Worsening nerve irritation tests (SLR or femoral nerve stretch). - Expanding motor, sensory or reflex deficits. - Recurrent disabling sciatica. - Disabling neurogenic claudication.
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