Lumbar radiculopathy is chronic pain which occurs in the lower back and legs. It is caused by damage to the lower spine which causes compression of the nerve roots which exit the spine. The compression leads to tingling, numbness, and occasional shooting pains. A variety of conditions can lead to compression of the nerve roots, which means that there are several different approaches to the treatment and management of this condition.
One of the most common causes is degeneration. As people age, their spines are subject to increasing degeneration which can cause herniated discs and similar problems, leading to lumbar radiculopathy. Degenerative diseases may also result in compression of the nerve roots. Trauma is another cause of this condition, which is why it is critical to receive a medical evaluation after receiving trauma to any region of the spine, as spinal problems are best dealt with quickly.
The pain associated with lumbar radiculopathy follows what is known as a dermatomal pattern. Specific regions of the skin known as dermatomes are associated with particular nerve roots. When pain flares up in a particular dermatome as a result of problems with the nerve roots, it can be traced back to the area of the spine involved. If a patient experiences pain in several dermatomes, it means that multiple nerve roots are involved. A doctor can use a chart of dermatomes or years of experience to identify the nerve roots which are being compressed.
Sensations of pain caused by lumbar radiculopathy are varied. Some people just experience some numbness and tingling, which often grows more severe over time. Others experience dull aches or shooting pains which run down their legs. These pains are known as “sciatica,” a term which refers to the sciatic nerve which runs from the lumbar spine down to the legs. Some people experience especially severe pain in specific positions which put pressure on the nerve roots, such as bending or twisting.
If a patient presents with symptoms which suggests lumbar radiculopathy, there are a number of approaches which can be used. A doctor may order x-rays or other medical imaging studies to get a look at what is going on inside the spine, so that he or she can understand the cause of the condition. The patient may be given exercise recommendations or medications to manage the condition, or a doctor may feel that surgery is the best treatment. Surgery can sometimes repair damage to the spine, alleviating the pressure and resolving the pain.