Lumbar radiculopathy is inflammation of a nerve root in the lower back that causes symptoms in the back and down the leg.
Radiculopathy is pain and other neurological symptoms caused by the pinching of nerve roots where they leave your spinal cord. When radiculopathy develops in your lower back, it’s called lumbar radiculopathy.
Lumbar radiculopathy is very common and is estimated to occur in
If conservative treatments fail to alleviate your symptoms, a doctor may recommend surgery.
Keep reading to learn more about lumbar radiculopathy, including symptoms, causes, and treatment options.
Pain is the
This type of pain is also referred to as sciatica.
Other signs and symptoms of lumbar radiculopathy can include:
- loss of reflexes
- pins and needles
- issues walking
Lumbar radiculopathy is caused by pressure on a nerve root. This pressure causes the nerve root to become inflamed. Any condition that puts pressure on a nerve root can lead to lumbar radiculopathy.
A herniated disc is when the jelly-like interior of one of the discs between your vertebrae bulges out of the thicker exterior. Herniated discs are
Other causes can include:
- degenerative conditions and complications, such as:
- traumatic injury like a fracture
- benign or cancerous tumors
- vascular conditions like hemangioblastoma
Age is the primary risk factor for lumbar radiculopathy, according to a
Men have a higher risk than women overall, but certain subgroups of women have a higher risk. For example, women who have physically strenuous careers like military service are at higher risk, according to the researchers of the 2019 review.
Other risk factors for lumbar radiculopathy may include:
- working a job that involves driving
- frequently lifting, especially with poor form or twisting
- doing heavy industrial work
- having a history of back trauma
- having a taller height
- having a chronic cough
- being overweight
- not being physically active
- having had multiple pregnancies
Doctors usually start the diagnostic process by reviewing your medical history and performing a physical exam. The physical exam will likely include tests such as:
- muscle function testing
- deep reflex testing
- sensation testing
Your doctor will likely perform Lasegue’s sign. This is a test where you lie on your back and your doctor raises your leg straight to assess for pain.
If your back pain doesn’t resolve in 1 or 2 months, your doctor will likely want to order imaging. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is considered the
In some cases, nerve conduction tests are used to find where along the nerve the problem is located. These tests involve placing electrodes on your skin that send very small amounts of electricity through your nerves.
Treatment for lumbar radiculopathy depends on the underlying cause and severity of your symptoms. Conservative treatment is usually considered before surgery.
Lumbar radiculopathy exercises
Doctors usually recommend staying active after your injury.
- lying flat and facedown
- propping yourself on your elbows with your spine extended
- propping yourself on your hands with your elbows fully extended
- extending your spine while standing with your hands on your lower back
Learn more about the McKenzie exercises.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medication
A doctor may recommend OTC medications to help manage pain. These include acetaminophen (Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen.
If OTC medications aren’t effective for pain relief, your doctor may recommend one of several types of injections to reduce inflammation and pain, including:
- facet injections
- transforaminal injections
Injections typically contain a mixture of an anti-inflammatory drug and a long lasting anesthetic.
There is some controversy about when surgery should be considered for lumbar radiculopathy. In general, doctors likely won’t recommend surgery until other treatments have failed to offer relief for at least
The type of surgery you receive depends on the underlying cause of the radiculopathy. The gold standard for disc herniation is a diskectomy, which is the removal of the injured part of your disc.
You may want to contact a doctor if you have persistent pain that lasts for more than a couple of days. It’s especially important if you have pain that keeps you up at night or you have other concerning symptoms like urinary incontinence or numbness in the genital region or saddle region, which are symptoms of cauda equina syndrome.
Some causes of lumbar radiculopathy, like age-related degeneration, may be outside of your control. The most common cause of lumbar radiculopathy is a herniated disc. You may be to lower your odds of a herniated disc by:
- lifting weights with good technique and not heavier than your capabilities
- maintaining a healthy weight
- breaking up periods of prolonged sitting
- avoiding smoking, which may increase disc degeneration
- avoiding twisting when lifting heavy objects
- exercising regularly
Lumbar radiculopathy is pain and other neurological symptoms caused by pressure on a nerve root in your lower back. It may cause shooting pain down the back of your leg and other symptoms like weakness or tingling.
Most cases of lumbar radiculopathy heal with conservative treatment. If conservative treatment options don’t ease your symptoms, your doctor may recommend surgery.