Can Degenerative Disc Disease Cause Nerve Problems in the Feet?

Question: Could degenerative disc disease cause nerve problems in the feet?
Augusta, ME

Answer: Yes—in some severe cases, degenerative disc disease (DDD) can cause nerve problems in the feet.

Degenerative disc disease, specifically of the lumbar spine, can actually cause nerve pain to radiate into the feet from your spine. This is because degenerative disc disease—a degenerative spine condition that's caused by the wear and tear process of the spine—can lead to a significant loss of disc height.

woman's feet with toenails painted red wearing red sandles

An intervertebral disc can also herniate and push on the nerves that lead to the feet, causing pain and sometimes tingling or numbness.

This wear and tear process and/or a herniated disc can cause the nerves that lead to your feet to become compressed when they exit the spine. This is foraminal spinal stenosis—a narrowing of the spinal foramen (the small opening a spinal nerve passes through as it exits the spine). Foraminal spinal stenosis would explain the pain or other symptoms you're having in your feet.

While DDD can cause nerve problems in the feet, back pain is the most common symptom of degenerative disc disease. You didn't mention whether you have back pain, but many people with degenerative disc disease do have chronic neck pain or back pain.

Below are some other common degenerative disc disease symptoms:

  • Frequently changing positions reduces your pain
  • Pain increases when you sit for a long time, bend, lift, or twist
  • Walking, running, or lying down decreases your pain

If you have any of the symptoms below, seek medical attention immediately:

  • Complete loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Pain that continues to get worse
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling in your legs or feet

It's important to note that while degenerative disc disease can cause the symptoms above, nerve problems in your feet aren't always caused by DDD. In rare cases, they could also be caused by something other than DDD, including an infection (eg, discitis) or an injury (eg, spinal fracture symptoms).

Depending on how severe the nerve problem is in your feet, there are numerous treatment options, ranging from physical therapy to over-the-counter and prescription medications. Have a conversation with your doctor about the right treatment options for the nerve problems in your feet—whether they're caused by degenerative disc disease or another spine condition.