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What is Lumbar Radiculopathy?

Lumbar radiculopathy is chronic pain in the lower back and legs, which is caused by nerve damage to the lower spine.
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  • Last Modified Date: 24 June 2014
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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.

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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.

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anon958018
Post 30

I have a structurally compromised lumbar spine with moderate to severe DDD. I am currently 67 years of age. I suffered a L1 compression fracture with connective tissue damage while serving in the military in 1967. I was never treated for the initial injury while in the military other than receiving a medical profile for two weeks limiting what I could or couldn’t do physically regarding the lower back.

Since that trauma to the spine a little over 47 years ago, now I have developed a mild scoliosis of the lumbar spine with torquing injuries to L3-L4 and a herniated disc at L5-S1 with MRI imaging showing a pinched leg nerve at the herniation area.

In January of 2010, I was involved in a motor vehicle accident (MVA) the vehicle that struck mine spun my vehicle around violently approximately 90-100 degrees pivoting the vehicle on the front axle. I sustained what was referred to as a torquing injury to the L3-L4 vertebrae. This type of injury used to be referred to as a hyperextension twisting injury. As I have stated this area of the lumbar spine already had a torquing injury prior to the MVA.

I noticed a difference almost immediately with the physical change of my spine as pain was now located in a different area than what I was use to experiencing. In the four plus years since the accident and presenting in the four to six week period after the MVA I started to experience left leg failures where the leg would simply fold out from under me as if I stepped off into thin air. At first I perceived these failures to be missteps or tripping. As their frequency increased, I realized that the leg was collapsing out from under me for no obvious reason, and this realization was disconcerting to me to say the least.

I have progressed to the point where I am starting to experience the same sort of leg failure first associated with the left leg and is now presenting in the right leg. After that first right leg failure, which resulted in my falling to the surface of my concrete driveway, I have all sorts of medical restrictions imposed by my neurologist of things I can and cannot do. One of the things he stressed adamantly was that I should avoid falling as it could cause permanent spinal cord damage resulting in paraplegia.

Two months to the day, my right leg folded out from under me while I was ascending the stairs in my home. Fortunately for me, I fell forward onto the second floor landing. I am confident at this point that I have some sort of lumbar spine radiculopathy involved in these leg failures and associated leg pains.

The symptoms and pain seem to be consistent with femoral and oburator nerve impingement and the torquing injury to the L3-L4 during the MVA from 2010 seem consistent with this self-diagnosis. I have also developed a left leg extension problem as this ability can change from day today.

I have a standard shift Ford pickup truck, a manual transmission which is engaged or disengaged with the use of a clutch pedal. This pedal is operated with the left foot. I have found that the ability to extend my leg in depressing the clutch varies from day to day and with the amount of lumbar pain I am experiencing. I often have to move the driver’s seat forward a notch or two to be able to fully depress and engage the clutch. The next day, or a few days after I may have to move the seat back to the ‘normal’ driving position for me. This leg extension failure can happen without warning while driving the vehicle.

Here’s my question. After undergoing numerous neurological tests, my neurologist told me he believes the trouble is in my back. No, really? You think? They sent me for EMG nerve pathway and muscle testing. This would have been during the time before the right leg failures began which presented in April and then June of this year.

While having the EMG procedure performed, I suffered severe right leg and lumbar back spasmodic pain, something like getting a shock from a 125 volt electrical current. I would actually jerk with convulsive muscle spasms that brought tears to my eyes every time the electrodes were energized at the different test areas of the right leg.

Surprisingly when the same procedure was performed on the left leg (this would be the leg that I was frequently losing the neurological motor control of and falling as it collapsed out from under me), I felt virtually nothing -- only the smallest nearly unperceivable little static electrical shock if that. I mentioned this to the doctor performing the EMG procedure and was told that what I was feeling or not feeling was inconclusive. I said it wasn’t to me, that if I cannot feel the testing of the nerve pathway in the left leg, that could be the reason that I often lose the motor control of the left leg. I was told that my observation was not relevant to the test.

At the end of this torturous medical procedure, I was told that the test itself was inconclusive, but that the nerve pathways in my legs were all good and normal for my age group. Inconclusive? I was in agonizing pain for the next two weeks, literally crawling around my home as it was nearly impossible for me to stand upright. It was at least three weeks before I got back to the mobility I had before the EMG procedure.

There now appears to be lasting neurological damage to my spine from that medical procedure. I never really fully recovered from the EMG procedure. I often wonder how excruciating muscle spasms being caused by an EMG procedure being done on the right leg may have equated out to similar stresses that could have been sustained should I have fallen.

I cannot help but remember what my neurologist had said about avoiding falls and limiting what I could and could not do to help prevent such occurrences from coming to fruition.

Here is the question: I have no problems with the nerve pathways in my legs other than they are often giving me varying levels of pain, weakness and trouble with just walking at times. They seem to function well until there is a break within the cerebral cortex neurological motor command and the corresponding nerve pathway in the back, radiculopathy of the lumbar spine, causing the loss of motor control of the left leg primarily with similar symptoms now appearing in the right leg as well. If being told that the EMG test basically is inconclusive and that my legs nerve pathways all tested good, does this then rule out nerve entrapment, impingement, compression, or basically radiculopathy of the lumbar spine? No, I thought not.

How does one test the nerve pathways of the lumbar spine itself to determine nerve damage or compromise? There were no cerebral cortex anomalies found during testing with a CT head scan being done, as well. The EMG procedure therefore, would seem an inconclusive testing procedure for lumbar spine nerve pathway assessment, and rules out damage of the nerve pathways of the legs below the lumbar area.

After having a lumbar MRI imaging done in March, radiology has diagnosed me with a 1 cm superior disc bulge, protrusion, compressing the thecal sac of the spinal cord. I have an appointment for evaluation/consultation with an orthopedic neurosurgeon at the end of July. I think we may have established the femoral/ obdurator nerve impingement source eh?

Still I ask: is there no medical procedure short of surgical inspection, getting an eyeball on it, to determine the condition of lumbar nerve pathways?

anon948711
Post 29

I am only 42 years old and I understand. I am still working 40 hours a week with degenerative disk disease, herniated and bulging discs from my l5 to my s1, spinal stenosis and the burning in my legs. I am about ready to go nuts. I cannot sleep, my family thinks I am just complaining, I am so depressed right now. I am on so many medications, I give up.

anon944786
Post 28

I had a double spinal fusion via TLIF just over a year ago and have been disabled ever since due to nerve root damage. An EMG showed the damage, but the surgeon put me on no restrictions because the MRI and CT scans showed nothing wrong.

I'm in agony and got rejected by my long term disability insurance and by Social Security disability because my surgeon wrote that he believes my pain is "subjective", i.e., I'm either a hypochondriac, crazy and imagining the pain, or a fraud pretending to be injured. It's horrible to live in such pain and have no one believe you or want to help you.

My primary and pain doctors deferred to the surgeon, who basically just wants to wash his hands clean of me. I've had numbness and extreme pain and discomfort in my legs ever since the surgery. I'm not sure what to do. My back is much better, but now I've got a whole host of leg issues that didn't exist before all this! Has anyone else experienced this after TLIF surgery?

anon336724
Post 27

My lower spine was damaged over thirty years ago, when I was severely beaten up by two local girls because my jacket was similar to her boyfriend's. All that was done was an x-ray, a police report and pain killers, (which I stopped taking about a year later. It was the old Naprosyn). Nothing was ever done, so for the next decade or two I simply worked and dealt with the pain.

Now I am suffering again as it has degenerated over time. Has anyone else experienced the ongoing sweating when overexerted, or just sleeping while it's inflamed or the night twitches that make it impossible to get a good night's sleep.

anon332726
Post 26

I can't believe all the people out there who suffer like I do. I would answer the question of whether there is any relief insight for any of us with a solid no.

I am 53 years old. I injured my coccyx muscle in 1980 which caused on and off again sciatic pain over 15-20 years. Then I injured my neck in a car accident in 2002. My pain gradually increased, leading to a C6-7 discectomy with titanium plate in 2008. At that time, the scoliosis in my lumbar spine was noted as mild. By 2010, the fusion had caused an acquired scoliosis in my thoracic spine and my lumbar spine scoliosis was noted as moderate.

I'll mention here I have varying levels of DDD at all levels, as well as chronic nerve damage to the C7-C8-T1 nerves and L5-S1 and L3-L4 nerves. Lots of bone spurs and spondylosis. To manage my pain, I have had PT, aquatic PT, magnetic therapy, massage therapy, chiropractic visits, biofeedback, traditional acupuncture, electrode based acupuncture, trigger point injections, steroid injections and three radio-frequency ablations. Once I was diagnosed co-morbidly with narcolepsy in 2006, it's been a hell of a bad trip through health care. Jerk doctors, quack doctors, not going to give you pain medicine even though I'm your pain doctor, doctors.

Today, my lumbar scoliosis is severe, tilting my hips 40 degrees, pushes out on my right side on my hip, pushes out the right side of my back, making one leg an inch and a half shorter than the other and causing me to lose three and a half inches in height. My thoracic scoliosis is moderate and virtually pain free when compared to my lumbar radiculopathy. Sharp knife-like pains shoot down both legs, not sciatic-like, but 500,000 times worse. I still get cervicogenic headaches from my neck.

I have 13 and 17 year old girls and I can't walk 10 feet to do anything with them. I take 13 medicines a day. I've done and tried every available therapy, and try to stay occupied and busy. I had to leave my lucrative career last September after 24 years. Now we are broke, and piecing it together. So, no. There's no end. No solution. Depending on your general health and personal situation, you can go through more or less of the things I've listed above.

I try to stay grateful for my two girls and wonderful, supportive husband who loves me and takes care of me. The pain wears me down and I cry at night sometimes after everyone is in bed. I used to be beautiful and strong. And now I am deformed and the pains sometimes make me gasp out loud. It's like having cancer, only you don't get to die from it. You get to stay around and experience it every day.

I usually only get down when someone gives me crap, like a doctor, which they do sometimes because you frustrate them because you keep coming back and you're not getting better! And I pray a lot. Maybe God has a higher purpose for me, like to campaign for the rights of those of us that live our lives in chronic pain. I don't know.

Tomorrow, I see a scoliosis orthopedic surgeon specialist. He's my last hope for surgery. Seems if he'll do it. I have to vote for it, or a wheelchair and scooter are just around the corner. God help us all. What are we to do?

anon318268
Post 25

I have L3/4 far lateral disc herniation, with Radicular pain/etc for L3/L4/L5 myotomes and dermatomes. I tried cortisone nerve sleeve injections at L3 and L5 with limited effect. My chiropractor then suggested seeing an Interventional Radiologist who did Ozone injections - after six months of leg weakness and nerve pain and hardly any sleep. This was a miracle. My back isn't perfect yet, but the pain is very much reduced and I am now on a rehab program with the physio and continue with chiro treatment. You can have ozone even after surgical intervention.

anon297843
Post 24

I would like to say that those who are still in pain might want to look into alternative therapies. Look for a chiropractor who has equipment to help, not just manually crack your back.

Also, has anyone looked into acupuncture or acupressure? I know someone who is getting acupuncture and is feeling loads better. Hope you all get some sort of relief.

anon293925
Post 23

I have been diagnosed through EMG with L5-S1 radiculopathy. I have been in pain for three months.

AshsMommy
Post 22

I'm 17 years old, and had a baby at 14. They messed up my epidural and ever since then I've had back, hip and leg pain. Physical therapy doesn't seem to help. What should I do? I can't deal with this. Also, when I lie down at night, I can't lie flat on my back because it hurts too much and I can't really lie on my right hip.

anon258400
Post 21

I have had herniated discs at L3 and L4, for wight months now, but physical therapy, really exercising at home (you have to do it) is the key. The pills only cover up the pain; they are not working on the core.

I refused surgery from the beginning and I have the lumbar radiculopathy in my left leg, knee, etc. It comes and goes. When it's bad (and there are triggers) one has to change positions. If sitting, get up and move, if moving sit down or lie down and put your feet up. Yes, the exercises are difficult but it's the only way.

I see a chiropractor, have massages and my next step is to have acupuncture. It's all about managing the pain. I'm not saying it's easy, and there are days I want to throw in the towel, but being with friends and keeping busy also takes one mind off the pain. When I'm doing nothing, I hurt because I'm thinking about it and then it becomes a vicious cycle.

The third spinal shot helped me for a good five weeks, but it came back, but I'm up for one in May once again and I'm going for it. If I can get a good few weeks or even a few months (one never knows) it's worth it. Unfortunately, we have to do the work; there is no magic anything for this condition. I feel for everyone on this board.

anon247730
Post 20

I had a job related injury and had two disc laminectomies. During the surgery, I had a stroke due to low blood flow. I had just received my MBA in HR. Now I can tell how disc surgery did not work and now I am doing a TLIF next month. I wish I could say you can have normalcy. Just do the best you can and try not to get used to the pain medicine. I now I take pain meds, flomax, Xanax and another depression med.

anon243659
Post 19

My name is Shawn, and I'm 26 years of age. Back in June of 2011 I was involved in a vehicle accident in which I careened off road, dropped 28 feet, and proceeded to roll nine times. I had an L2 compression fracture, and two herniated discs.

It's the end of january and I've just been diagnosed with lumbosacral radiculopathy and was referred to a pain clinic. So is this my future, a life of pain pills to find peace in life? Its' been devastating to me and my way of life. I'm not going to lie -- I'm a little depressed over the ordeal but does anyone here believe there life is better using the pain killers? I'm a little scared of surgery or spinal injections, and a response would be greatly appreciated.

anon242061
Post 18

I have never ending pain from this condition and I hope that science finds a treatment to eliminate the pain in our lives!

keikomom
Post 17

I, too, suffer from lumbar spine radiculopathy with CRPS and autonomic dysfunction. As a former professional ballet dancer, I was trained to work through pain, make pain my friend.

Exit stage left went the pride at being in top shape (even as an aged woman), enter stage right came pain taking on the shape of an encroaching ghost. Friend? I have trouble not characterizing it as evil incarnate. OK. OK. I will hush. This is the only website on which I have posted regarding this issue. Pain is what it is. After all, joy and pain are drunk from the same cup, are they not? Question: What has anyone found to be the best everyday walking shoe? I hear fivefingers touted, yet, shapeups or earth shoes seem appealing. Any thoughts?

anon211296
Post 16

I am new to this diagnosis. I do not have so much pain, as the numbness now crawling from my feet to my waist. I also have ms and a, overweight, but I was in remission before a fall three weeks ago that started this hell. The fall was not ms related. Now it's starting on the right side. Does anyone think they will do any surgery? The L5 and S1 nerve impinge and I have some trouble with a herniated disc around there also.

--deb

anon204134
Post 15

After being ill-treated by M.D.s, I am finding relief in chiropractic therapy.

anon204132
Post 14

Start with vitamin supplements, especially B12. --eknm

rivdude707
Post 13

I'm not sure how current this thread is. Man, I'm right here with you all. I am sorry for all your pain. I have had L3, S1 Discectomy and L5, S1 Discectomy in 2005 and 2006. I got an on the job injury in 2005, and found myself out the door on a disability retirement. That was at 37 years old. C'mon man! Retirement disability? Now I'm 43.

I was run through physical therapy a couple of times, but just more pain. Then I had injections. Those worked for two days. The story goes on just like all the rest: narcos every four hours, three valium a day and two Lyricas a day. My neurosurgeon, who is very good, wants me off the drugs or he is turning me over to pain management. That just means more drugs, or get the next surgery: a fusion at the L5, S1, TLIF and PLIF.

I had it yesterday for a heads up on the surgery and he had me scheduled for it in two weeks, but I declined, so he's referring me to pain management. I’ve read all these posts and hundreds of others online. I’m trying to keep a lot of negativity out of this decision, but it boils down to no relief from this fusion, and they can’t guarantee me that my upper level won’t end up getting fused as well. Seems like I'm just going to have to bite the bullet. Where are these support groups online? I feel you on the tears. Damn, and if you haven't lived this, you don't know.

anon190238
Post 11

Learning to live with lumbar spine radiculopathy with CRPS has been a great challenge for me. I've been diagnosed for 13 years now and the pain has never let up. I've engaged in all the treatments above and now I'm medication free and have had no recent medical procedures.

After a total collapse in 2009, I regained my strength with strong faith, consistent support from my network of family, friends and my pain specialist and plenty of psychotherapy. I've learned to meditate and remain calm as possible when a pain flareup is unbearable. Quiet strength and determination, living by day and not sweating the small stuff goes a long way with chronic pain.

Learning to develop a relationship with your pain somehow helps soothe the burning, pinching, tingling and numbing that this condition constantly dishes out.

I have discovered that the depression only exists because you feel as if you are the only one going through this pain process. Learning to share your experiences with others in a support group helps make the dark places seem a lot brighter! Stay busy and at peace.

anon166226
Post 10

I fell off my truck. I'm a car hauler and I was reloading a car, the next thing I knew I was looking up from the ground at a man asking me if I was alright. I must have landed on my left side because everything hurt on it, especially my left buttock. This happened Feb 1, and after nerve tests and mris and such, I have been diagnosed with Radiculopathy. I have a feeling it doesn't look good after reading all these statements, my pain is constant and therapy stinks!

anon137831
Post 9

I have had the l-5-s1 TLIF also, and am still in lots of pain. I am trying to wean off pain medication because I heard it dead ends the bladder. A urologist told me so.

I take flomax two pills daily plus a valium twice daily. I have been trying everything to get better. Now I am 53. I also had c-spine surgery c4-5 and ACDF. I also have been diagnosed through emg with lumbar radiculopathy and cervical radiculopathy, also CRPS.

I don't know what to do. Any help?

anon136051
Post 8

I have had sciatica, in my left side for almost 3 years now. In the last three years, I have undergone 15 (L5,S1) Lumbar Radiculopathy procedures, and routine physical therapy. I take Neurontin, Lyrica, Zanaflex, and a variety of potent pain medications. My pain ranges from intense sharp shooting pain, to intense burning and throbbing.

My left thigh and the bottom of my left foot is completely numb. I have calf muscle cramps, weakness in my legs, and on more than one occasion, difficulty in standing and walking. My life is pretty much dominated with non-relenting back and leg pain. Surgery seems to be my last option but, after speaking to the neurosurgeon, I don't know if the benefits out-weigh the risks. I have been told that after surgery, I could see some relief, little relief, no relief, or be worse off that I was before the surgery. I personally have known 3 people, who after years of suffering from severe back and leg pain, committed suicide. People stay strong, think positive, talk to friends and family, and just take life one day at a time.

anon118132
Post 7

I have been diagnosed with this also affecting my L5-S1. The doctors are sending me to a surgeon. I have pain and terrible burning down my left side on top of this I have fibromyalgia. I take Lyrica. I am 40 years old and doctors seem not to care anymore to even try to treat the pain, which is supposed to be a number one priority.

anon116752
Post 6

I have had a l5-s1 laminectomy because i lost feeling in my right leg and when i would get up off a chair, i would fall to the ground. I had pain for 10 years and still as of right now, i am taking 100 mg of morphine three times a day and dilaudid 2mg 3-4 times a day to no avail.

I find the only thing to help this pain is nsaids. I have a hard time urinating, and have to take flomax 2 times a day. I have radiculitis and another herniated disc at l4-5.

I have been depressed for years now. Any help is appreciated. I feel for all of us. People don't care i lived to learn.

anon88078
Post 5

I have back pain with leg weakness, and I have not undergone surgery. Through muscle core strengthening, changes of the ergonomic movement of my body, and using lumbar supports at my desk, in my car, and sleeping on a tempurpedic mattress I have improved my pain by 80 percent.

Walking is essential. You must walk on an even surface, preferably a track, and use supportive sneakers. All of these suggestions need to be individualized.

anon80481
Post 4

Several months after a discectomy laminectomy l4-l5 because of weakness, I have radiating pain down my left leg.

Now the whole thing is starting again in my right leg and I have yet to recover from weakness and muscle fatigue.

You're in luck guys. I'm refused drugs because of my young age -- so I have been told even by a pain doctor.

Learn to live with the pain and strengthen your back so you won't herniate any other discs. Also do a lot of sports to recover. How the hell am I suppose to do that when standing up is this painful?

Depression comes and goes. Some days are ok and some are just black. I have no faith. I feel like I had the surgery for nothing.

anon56726
Post 3

I have been given Norco, Percocet and now Dilaudid with 100 mg of Lyrica. It controls the pain at times. I wake up with water and my pills at my bedside.

I have had l4-l5 laminectomy surgeries for sciatica pain on the left side. I now experience right side shooting pain with numbness and tingling in my toes. I don't know if my life will ever get back to normal either. I feel your pain. The depression is getting worse. And friends and family don't want to call because I am never feeling good.

Will I ever have a pain free day?

anon41188
Post 2

why do i have lumbar radiculopathy when i have already had a l5s1 fusion?

anon35491
Post 1

I had TLIF surgery 6 weeks ago for radicular pain from herniated discs. I had a fusion on L4/5 a few years ago, which was removed and a new fusion of L3/4. I have found this to be the worst and most painful recovery of any surgery that I have ever had. Did I mention discouraging and depressing?? I am wondering if I will ever have any normalcy to my life ever again!! Can you tell me? I am taking 2 Norco every 5 or 6 hours and am in tears by the time for my next ones. Any help?

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