Lumbar radiculopathy occurs when the spinal nerve roots in the lower back are compressed or inflamed. This can lead to pain, numbness, or weakness in any area from your lower back to your feet.
Area Affected By Lumbar Radiculopathy
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Factors that may increase your risk of lumbar radiculopathy include: Birth defects in the structure of the discStrenuous activity, especially heavy liftingOverstretchingOverweightInjuryDiabetesPrevious spinal surgery
Lumbar radiculopathy may cause: TinglingPainNumbnessWeaknessMuscle spasms
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Tests may include: Physical mobility testsPain sensation testsReflex testsElectrodiagnostics to test nerve conduction speed
Imaging tests evaluate the spine and other structures. Imaging test may include: MRI scanCT scanContrast myelography
In most cases, lumbar radiculopathy goes away when the cause of the symptoms improves. If problems persist, symptoms can be managed.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include one or more of the following:
Corsets and back braces support posture and may reduce pain.
Spinal decompression, or traction, relieves pressure around pinched nerves in the spinal column. Spinal discs are slowly pulled apart allowing for blood and nutrients to heal the spine.
Medications used to treat lumbar radiculopathy include: Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophenPrescription pain relieversAntidepressantsMuscle relaxersCorticosteroid injections into the spine
If the lumbar radiculopathy is caused by a bacterial infection, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics.
Continue normal activities unless it causes pain. Staying active helps maintain muscle strength and flexibility.
You will be referred to a physical therapist for specific exercises. Exercises also improve range of motion. Physical therapy may also include other techniques such as massage, manual therapy, heating, cooling or ultrasound treatments. Your therapist can also provide back care education including proper posture and body mechanics.
Your doctor may refer you to counseling. Counseling will help you manage chronic pain through single or group therapy.
If no other treatments work, surgery may be an option for you. The goal of surgery is to relieve nerve compression and reduce pain. Surgical procedures may include: Laminectomy—an open procedure to remove a portion of the bony arch of the spineMicrodiscectomy—a portion of the herniated disc is removed with instruments or a laser
To help reduce your chance of developing some causes of lumbar radiculopathy: Maintain proper weight with a healthy diet and regular exercise.Learn how to properly lift heavy items.Exercise your back to keep muscles strong and flexible.Use proper technique when playing sports to avoid back injury.Avoid excess straining or stretching of your neck and back.
Lumbar radiculopathy. Advancing Neuromuscular, Musculoskeletal, and Electrodiagnostic Medicine website. Available at: http://www.aanem.org/Education/Patient-Resources/Disorders/Lumbar-Radiculopathy.aspx. Accessed September 16, 2015.
Lumbar radiculopathy. Spine Health website. Available at: http://www.spine-health.com/conditions/lower-back-pain/lumbar-radiculopathy. Updated April 25, 2015. Accessed September 16, 2015.
Physical therapist's guide to low back pain. Move Forward—American Physical Therapy Association website. Available at: http://www.moveforwardpt.com/SymptomsConditionsDetail.aspx?cid=d0456c65-7906-4453-b334-d9780612bdd3#.Vfl8WZcTDOt. Updated June 2, 2015. Accessed September 16, 2015.
Last reviewed September 2015 by Laura Lei-Rivera, DPT
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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