Lumbar (Low Back) Pain Lumbar Radiculopathy

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Is Lumbar Radiculopathy to Blame for Your Lumbar Spine Pain?

Between each vertebra, there are small discs that cushion and protect the spine. When one or more of these discs in the lower back become damaged, they may in turn compress or irritate the nerves surrounding them. The disc compression can result in numbness, tingling and low back pain. This nerve irritation is collectively referred to as Radiculopathy.

Understanding the Role of Lumbar Radiculopathy in Low Back Pain

To get a more clear vision of what Lumbar Radiculopathy is and what it is caused by, we need to take a closer look at the anatomy of the spine. In a healthy spine there are small vertebrae connected together, each separated by a small protective disc. This disc is composed of a soft center surrounded by a firm outer ring. The purpose of these discs is to cushion the spine from daily wear and tear. Alongside the vertebrae, there are spinal nerves that branch out from the spinal cord and travel down the back and legs. These nerves are responsible for carrying messages to and from the brain and the lower extremities.

In some cases, the discs between the vertebrae can become damaged. This may occur due to normal wear and tear, a traumatic injury, or strenuous activity. A herniated disc is the most common cause of radiculopathy. The degeneration of the outer ring of the disc allows the softer center to be exposed, and this delicate portion can rupture and squeeze through the damaged outer ring. When the ruptured disc exerts force against one of the spinal nerves in the area where it leaves the low back, painful lumbar radiculopathy can result. This can include numbness, tingling of the leg or foot on the affected side, weakness, and muscle spasms. Simply put, lumbar radiculopathy is the medical term used to describe this group of symptoms caused by a nerve root problem in the low back. Diabetes, nerve root injuries, and scar tissue from any previous surgeries can also be a cause.

Radiculopathy can occur in any part of the spine, most commonly in the cervical spine (near the neck) and the lumbar spine (lower back). When this condition occurs in the lower spine and the pain radiates down the back of the leg and into the foot, it is often referred to as “sciatica.” In this instance, the pain in the leg is typically much worse than the pain felt in the lower back. The specific areas of the back, leg, or foot that are affected are determined by the location of the compressed nerve. If the affected nerve is located higher on the spine (L2, L3, L4), radicular pain can be felt in the front of the thigh and the shin. If the affected nerve is lower (L5, S1), pain will be confined mostly to the back of the leg and the foot.

The major risk factor for radiculopathy is having an excessive or constant load on the spine. This may be attributed to playing contact sports, heavy manual labor jobs, or other repetitive strenuous activity. It may be comforting to know that radiculopathy pain usually resolves itself within six weeks to three months. Most patients with this condition opt for non-surgical treatments, such as rest, physical therapy, chiropractic therapy, or even steroind injections (to reduce the inflammation). In some cases, the pain remains despite all of the treatment efforts. If this occurs, surgery may be an option, in hopes to relieve the pressure off of the affected nerve. In any case, consulting with your spine specialist is the best option to ensure a comfortable, effective lumbar radiculopathy treatment plan that relieves the low back pain it is causing.

Tips for Preventing and Managing Low Back Pain at Home

  • Regular stretching and exercise can help prevent and ease low back pain.
  • When lifting heavy objects, use your legs for leverage, not your back.
  • Walk cautiously and wear shoes with good traction when walking on slippery surfaces.
  • When carrying something, be sure to distribute its weight evenly, not favoring one side.
  • Consult a spine specialist for severe low back pain that hasn’t resolved with conservative methods in a few weeks./li>

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