Lumbar radiculopathy is a condition in which a spinal nerve in the lower back, or lumbar region of the spine, has been pinched or compressed. This nerve impingement can occur for a variety of reasons, the most common cause being a herniated intervertebral disc or bone spur that puts pressure on the affected spinal nerve root. Radiculopathy is most common in the neck (cervical) region of the spine and the lower back (lumbar) region of the spine, as opposed to the middle (thoracic) spine.
The classic symptoms of spinal nerve impingement are tingling, muscle weakness, numbness, and pain. Each spinal nerve supplies a specific part of the body in terms of muscles and skin, so the location of the symptoms will vary depending on which nerve(s) are affected by the radiculopathy. If the nerve is pinched in the upper part of the spine, the pain and associated symptoms will affect an area in the shoulder, arm or neck. In the case of lumbar radiculopathy, however, the symptoms will affect the lower back, the buttocks and radiate down the leg. This type of pain is also commonly called sciatica, referring to the sciatic nerve of the lower limb that follows this path.
Certain types of medical imaging procedures, along with clinical examinations and a patient history, can lead to the diagnosis of radiculopathy. A conservative approach is usually taken to treat lumbar radiculopathy. The first treatments that are tried include anti-inflammatory medications, pain medications and sometimes muscle relaxants. Some patients may benefit from physical therapy as a treatment for lumbar radiculopathy. Certain activities may need to be avoided during the process of recovery according to your doctor’s recommendations. If a patient’s lumbar radiculopathy symptoms do not get better with the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, another non-surgical treatment that may be attempted is the use of corticosteroid injections into the spine. This procedure is also called an epidural injection of steroids. Surgery is mainly used as a treatment for complicated cases, cases that do not respond to conservative treatments for a period of time and cases that get progressively worse over time. Surgical treatments for lumbar radiculopathy involve removing a piece of the structure that is compressing the nerve root, whether it is a herniated intervertebral disc or part of a vertebra, to relieve the pressure on the affected nerve.