I Have Low Back Pain And Was Told My Reflexes Are Weak. What Does That Mean?

Dr. Steven C. Ludwig answers the question: 'Low Back Pain And Weak Reflexes?'

BySteven C. Ludwig, M.d., Chief Of Spine Surgery, University Of Maryland Medical Center
November 12, 2008, 11:32 AM

— -- Question: I Have Low Back Pain And Was Told My Reflexes Are Weak. What Does That Mean?

Answer: Reflex tests are simple physical tests of nervous system function. A reflex is a simple nerve circuit. A stimulus such as a light tap with a rubber hammer causes sensory nerves to send signals to the spinal cord. Here the signals are conveyed both to the brain and to nerves that control muscles affected by the stimulus.

Reflex tests help to assess the integrity of the nerve circuits and are performed to quickly confirm the integrity of the spinal cord, or specific nerve root function.

The knee jerk and ankle jerk tests evaluate the integrity of the nerves originating in the lower back region. The strength of the reflex response should be the same for both sides of the body. If the response is weak, or absent, that may indicate damage to the nerves.

The nerve roots that exit the spine to form the sciatic nerve are extremely sensitive. When the disc bulges that can easily irritate the nerve. Therefore if the inner portion of the disc becomes too close to the nerve, the nerve may be irritated and become inflamed causing sciatic pain, or sciatica.

Symptoms of sciatica are pain, numbness, tingling and weakness in the leg. The patient's pain and sciatica symptoms can usually be traced to an injured or irritated nerve in the lower back. This will manifest itself on a patient's physical examination as loss of motor strength, sensation as well as diminished reflex.

Next: What Is A Straight-Leg-Raising Test And What Is It Used For?

Previous: I Was Told My MRI Shows A Pinched Nerve. What Does That Mean?

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events