Lumbar Radiculopathy

Lumbar radiculopathy is often defined as back pain that travels, spreads—radiates into the low back and sometimes the legs or feet (or both).  Lumbar radiculopathy can develop suddenly or gradually as a result of lumbar disc herniation, spinal stenosis, or other spinal disorder that causes low back spinal nerve root compression, irritation and inflammation.  Sciatica is a common term used to describe certain symptoms associated with a lumbar radiculopathy.

Characteristics of low back radiculopathy include:

  • Pain: mild, achy, sharp, excruciating
  • Laughing, coughing or sneezing aggravates pain
  • Movement at the waist worsens pain.
  • Sitting or walking often increases pain.
  • Sensations: burning, numbness, tingling, pins and needles
  • Weakness
  • Bowel and/or bladder dysfunction (rare)*

*Loss of bowel and/or bladder control may be a symptom of cauda equina syndrome, a serious medical condition.  Seek medical care immediately.

Lumbar nerves provide sensation, control function

There are five pairs of lumbar nerves.  Where you feel back pain and symptoms depends on which spinal nerve root (or roots) is compressed.  For example, if your third lumbar nerve root—abbreviated L3, is compressed, you may experience groin and inner thigh pain.  L4 compression may cause pain at the front of your thigh, knee or upper leg.  Your buttocks, left or right sides of your legs and back of one foot or the other is served by L5.  Symptoms may include numbness or weakness.

You may feel skin surface numbness or tingling (or both) in certain areas.  Where you feel skin sensation depends on which spinal nerve root is compressed.  Each spinal nerve root serves a specific skin area called a dermatome.  The map-like drawing below illustrates the body’s dermatomes.

Figure 1: Dermatomes

Diagnostic examination

The purpose of the diagnostic examination is to locate the cause of your lumbar radiculopathy.  Dr. Jose Colon, MD combines information learned about your general health, lifestyle, past medical history, and symptoms with imaging or other test results to confirm your diagnosis.

Questions Dr. Colon may ask include:

  • When did upper-body pain and symptoms start?
  • Did a particular event precede pain?
  • Have pain and other symptoms improved or worsened?
  • Does back pain radiate into another part of your body?
  • On a scale of zero (no pain) to 10 (agony), what is your current pain level?
  • How does lumbar radiculopathy affect your ability to work or perform ordinary activities of daily life?
  • Do pain and symptoms disrupt your sleep?
  • Other questions specifically related to you and your symptoms.

MRI is performed to evaluate your lumbar spine.  Sometimes a plain x-ray is ordered.  Depending on the results of your examination and MRI, Dr. Colon may conduct electrodiagnostic studies.

Interventional treatment

Seldom does the cause of lumbar radiculopathy require spine surgery! Dr. Colon may combine non-operative interventional treatments to help resolve pain and improve mobility.  Interventional means to ‘intervene’ to stop and manage pain while you heal.

Treatments are administered in a step-wise way. We believe less can be more, and the staff at Newark Rehabilitation Center applies that philosophy to our treatment approach.  For example, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug and physical therapy may be as effective as a narcotic painkiller, but with fewer side effects. However, no two patients are alike, and your low back radiculopathy may require more aggressive care.

Interventional treatments may include:

Expert interventional spine care

Doctor Jose Colon, MD, Director and leading Medical Staff Physician of the Newark Rehabilitation Center can help resolve the cause of your lumbar radiculopathy, pain and symptoms.  He and his friendly staff realize you have questions—and take time necessary to provide answers using terms you can understand!  Dr. Colon welcomes the opportunity to recommend non-surgical and surgical treatments to help you.