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 the lower back to the feet.
Factors that may increase the risk of lumbar radiculopathy include:
- Birth defects in the structure of the disc
- Strenuous activity, especially heavy lifting
- Previous spinal surgery
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Tests may include:
- Physical mobility tests
- Pain sensation tests
- Reflex tests
- Electrodiagnostics to test nerve conduction speed
Imaging tests evaluate the spine and other structures. Imaging test may include:
In most cases, lumbar radiculopathy goes away when the cause of the symptoms improves. If problems persist, symptoms can be managed.
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 acetaminophen
- Prescription pain relievers
- Muscle relaxers
- Corticosteroid injections into the spine
If the lumbar radiculopathy is caused by a bacterial infection, antibiotics will be prescribed.
Continue normal activities unless it causes pain. Staying active helps maintain muscle strength and flexibility.
A physical therapist can advise 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. A therapist can also provide back care education including proper posture and body mechanics.
Counseling will help manage chronic pain through single or group therapy.
If no other treatments work, surgery may be an option. The goal of surgery is to relieve nerve compression and reduce pain. Surgical procedures may include:
To help reduce the 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.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Laura Lei-Rivera, PT, DPT, GCS
- Review Date: 09/2017 -
- Update Date: 10/03/2016 -