Lumbar radiculopathy causes great discomfort and pain which is often located in the lower leg region compared to the back. Affected individuals suffer from sharp pain that radiates down to the foot, which may aggravate while coughing or sneezing. Many a times, there is associated abdominal pressure when the pain turns severe. This is accompanied by numbness and tingling sensation in the affected leg. Changes in sensation can occur along with loss of reflexes. Prolonged duration of sitting or standing is not possible for such individuals and they may have to frequently change their position in order to avoid pain .
A preliminary physical and neurological examination is carried out. Physical examination would include determining the range of motion, through tests such as straight leg and cross straight leg test. The test would also provide sufficient information about the nature of symptoms. The gait and balance of the individual would also be analyzed. In addition, imaging studies such as CT scan and MRI would be done to analyze the root cause of the condition .
X-rays of the lower back region would be required in order to determine injury or infections in the spinal region. Electromyography is also required for measuring the electrical activity in the muscles and is useful for excluding other causes of sensory and motor disturbances .
Various methods are adopted for treating lumbar radiculopathy depending on the underlying etiology. The following methods would be employed:
The prognosis of the condition is favorable with recovery occurring within few weeks to months after initiation of treatment. However, the underlying etiology in the causation of lumbar radiculopathy also needs to be considered. Individuals with herniated discs can do well without surgery; and there are significant chances of recurrence of radiculopathy even with treatment. With proper exercise and appropriate body weight, individuals can lead a quality life .
Several factors such as underlying diseases and or structural abnormalities can cause nerve compression in the spinal region. Herniated disc, physical trauma, injury, mechanical stretching or bone spur can also lead to lumbar radiculopathy. Damage to the discs can occur due to strenuous activity, injury or congenital defect in the spinal region. This causes the cushioning material contained in the disc to leak which in turn exerts pressure on the nerve root, compressing it. Such a type of phenomenon causes pain, and tingling sensation in the affected area .
Lumbar radiculopathy can also stem from infections or tumor. In such conditions, the space in the spinal canal is significantly reduced, which in turn exerts pressure on the nerves. Degeneration, which is a common phenomenon of ageing, is also a contributory factor for lumbar radiculopathy.
About 80% of individuals across the globe fall prey to low back pain. It is one of the main reasons why quality of life is greatly affected. In US, about 3 to 5% are affected by lumbar radiculopathy; with men and women being affected in equal number. However, men aged 40 years and above and women in the age group of 50 to 60 are affected the most. Such a type of trend speaks of the relationship between advancing age and incidence of lumbar radiculopathy .
Anatomically, the spine comprises of 33 vertebrae with 4 regions, namely cervical, lumbar, thoracic and sacrum. These vertebrae are separated by discs which are cushioning materials that provide support to the spine by absorbing shocks. These discs contain a tough ring in the outer layer, known as annulus fibrosus and an inner gel-like center which is known as nucleus pulposus .
Factors or conditions that cause damage to the discs, can favor development of lumbar radiculopathy. Development of bone spurs, which occurs due to weakening of discs can also lead to narrowing of the space in between vertebrae gradually leading to nerve compression .
It is not always possible to prevent all the causes of lumbar radiculopathy. Some are inevitable, while some can be prevented by taking necessary precautions. Maintaining good posture and an ideal body weight can prevent the spine and lumbar region from undue pressure. Individuals are also advised to follow the correct posture while lifting heavy objects from ground level. For example, while lifting heavy objects or picking something from floor, it is necessary to bend the knees and not the back. Such a practice would not strain the spine and prevent it from trauma or injuries.
Due to compression of a spinal nerve, the neighboring muscles, tendons, bones and tissues are gravely affected. Lumbar describes the lower back region and radiculopathy refers to the nerve in the spine region compressed and/or inflamed. Therefore, lumbar radiculopathy indicates the condition that causes pain in the lower back region and leg due to compression of nerves in the spine. Individuals in the age group of 30 – 50 years are more likely to get affected .
Definition: Lumbar radiculopathy is characterized by pain in the leg and lower back region due to compression of a nerve in the spine. Men and women are affected in equal numbers and advancing age is one of the major factors for onset of the condition.
Cause: Several factors such as herniated disc, bone spurs, physical injury or trauma to the spine, structural abnormalities, degeneration or disease conditions can cause the nerve root to get compressed, giving rise to lumbar radiculopathy.
Symptoms: Affected individuals suffer from pain in the lower back, which then radiates down the legs accompanied by feeling of numbness and tingling sensation. There is loss of sensation and reflexes in the affected area.
Diagnosis: Physical examination followed by a neurological examination is done in the preliminary level. The gait and balance of the individual is determined using various tests. Imaging studies are indicated for analyzing any injury or development of tumor in the spinal region.
Treatment: Non-surgical treatment methods include medications both steroidal and non steroidal and physical therapy for effective management of symptoms. Surgery is usually the last resort and employed when other methods are not effective in reducing pain and discomfort.