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Lumbar Radiculopathy

Lumbar radiculopathy is a condition of the spine that occurs when there is damage, irritation or inflammation of the spinal nerve root causing pain.  The spine is divided into regions that correspond to their position along the vertebrae in the backbone. These sections are:

  • Cervical vertebrae in the neck (C1-C7)
  • Thoracic vertebrae in the upper back (T1-T12)
  • Lumbar vertebrae in the lower back (L1-L5)
  • Sacral vertebrae in the pelvic region (S1-S5)

If a nerve root in any area of the five lumbar vertebrae is compressed or irritated, pain can radiate from the affected nerve creating symptoms accordingly. The most common symptom of lumbar radiculopathy is sciatica, pain that radiates through the lower extremities along the path of the sciatic nerve. Sciatica is most often caused by compression of the L5 and S1 vertebrae.

Causes of Lumbar Radiculopathy

Lumbar radiculopathy is caused by any condition that compresses or irritates a spinal nerve root in the lower back.  Some of the most common causes of lumbar radiculopathy are a lumbar herniated disc, bone spurs, degenerative disc disease, foraminal spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, and nerve root injuries.

Lumbar Radiculopathy Symptoms

Patients most commonly report sciatica as a symptom of lumbar radiculopathy.  Sciatica pain varies in intensity, frequency and duration, and can present itself throughout the lower extremities along the path of the sciatic nerve in the following ways:

  • Sharp or burning pain that travels down the leg and makes walking and standing cumbersome
  • Sharp or burning pain that worsens when sitting
  • Steady pain in one leg or buttocks
  • Numbness in the leg and lower extremities
  • A feeling of weakness with certain activities
  • Difficulty moving lower extremities

Diagnosis

The spine experts at Mischer Neuroscience Institute utilize a variety of the most state-of-the-art equipment to diagnose lumbar radiculopathy, with advanced technology that can help locate the precise lumbar area where compression originates and detect the underlying causing conditions.  Diagnostic tests may include:

  • MRI
  • CT scan
  • Myelography
  • Electromyography

Treatment of Lumbar Radiculopathy

A variety of options are available to successfully treat this condition in most patients without surgery, and include:

  • Physical therapy/rehabilitation
  • Medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)
  • Epidural steroid injections or nerve root injections

For those patients who continue to experience significant pain, weakness and other symptoms after exhausting other treatment options, the following surgical interventions may be recommended:

Lumbar Microdiscectomy

A lumbar discectomy involves removing a small piece of a herniated disc near the irritated nerve root to relieve pressure and create space to help facilitate healing of the nerve. When a herniated or degenerative disc is the cause of lumbar radiculopathy, only the unhealthy portion of the offending disc is removed through a small incision made in the lower back.  This procedure has a high success rate and often involves a hospital stay of no more than one night for observation.

Lumbar Laminectomy

Lumbar laminectomy is a decompression surgery of the lumbar that is performed to create space in the spinal canal by removing bone called the lamina, as well as any other materials causing pressure.  The lamina is the back part of the vertebra that covers the spine, and bony overgrowths – sometimes called bone spurs – that develop here can cause compression and narrowing of the spine that leads to pain, weakness or numbness in the extremities.

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