The Big Toe’s Connected to the Spine

On my way home from my Boston trip two years ago, the big toe on my right foot went to sleep. And it’s still asleep, along with the rest of the foot, the ankle, and now moving up the leg. The toes on the right foot are curling a bit, and I can’t feel the big toe at all. There’s pressure around the foot, ankle, and lower leg that feels like being in one of those compression stockings. In fact, this is actually called “stocking” for obvious reasons.

I had an MRI of the lower back in 2019 and a super-fun visit with a neurosurgeon to follow up. The doctor came into the room, looked at me and said she was surprised I wasn’t in a wheelchair after looking at my films. Oooph. Followed by a remark that I wasn’t a candidate for surgery because my BMI level was too high. Well, hello, it’s nice to meet you, too. I wasn’t there because I expected surgery, I just wanted to know what was going on – and that I wouldn’t be losing my foot because I know of diabetics with peripheral neuropathy who HAVE lost a leg.

Nothing’s really changed except I ended up seeing the pain doctor and getting shots and neurotomies to reduce lower back pain, which was really a huge help. The foot and ankle kept bothering me, but it was Covid, and my visits anywhere were limited. And I was preoccupied by knee problems. Then the weird sensations started moving up the outside of my leg, and more than just feeling like pins and needles, it started burning. It’s messed up my sleep and my confidence walking, and it’s been more than just weird: it’s worrying.

The original MRI showed that I have severe spinal stenosis in the L3-L4 and L5-L6 levels. In the 2 years between then and now, I tore my right knee MCL and have fallen several times, including that memorable crash onto the concrete garage floor. Today my doctor told me that she suspects those falls are related to the stenosis, which can mess up your gait and balance. Plus falling itself probably didn’t help it. So I’m now getting a follow up MRI to compare to the original one to see progress or lack thereof. The burning, stocking, and neuropathy I’m experiencing follow the classic path of the nerve that connects to the area where the stenosis is worst, along the outside of the leg, crossing over and running down to the big toe. Bingo.

This really can’t wait, so I’ll fit the MRI in there somewhere, along with the seven other medical appointments already on my schedule for the next month. Five of those are for cataract surgery, so it’s not as bad as it sounds. And then there will be a referral to either a neurologist or neurosurgeon. Left untreated, severe spinal stenosis can lead to severe physical limits, and I’ve started thinking about whether that means moving somewhere that could be more ADA compliant than my home. Not a step I want to take if doing a little “roto-rooter-ing” of the spine to clean out some of the stenosis would relieve a potentially serious problem.