Ever had a back ache? You’re not alone. In fact, at any given time, up to one third of the US adult population has back pain and up to 80% of people will have back pain at some point in his or her lifetime. So you are not alone. Fortunately, rarely does back pain turn out to be caused by a lumbar radiculopathy. Unfortunately, there is a percentage of persons who develop lumbar radiculopathy and they need special attention.
Let’s break down the diagnosis. Lumbar refers to the low back or “lumbar” spine. This lowest part of the spine connects to the sacrum which is part of the pelvis. Now each of the vertebrae or spinal bones sits on top of the one below it and nerves pass out from the spinal cord between these bones. These nerves then travel down the legs and bring energy to the muscles and skin of the legs. Radiculopathy comes from “radix” or root and “pathy” from diseases/dysfunction. It refers to the fact that in a radiculopathy the root of the nerve is compressed where it leaves the spine.
The things that can compress the nerve as it exits the spinal cord include the bones when they develop arthritis or the discs when they protrude or herniate. In rare occasions big, bad ugly things like cancer and abnormal blood vessels can cause your pain. If any of these structures compresses the exiting nerve, you might experience pain, numbness or tingling down the leg and weakness in the muscles to which the nerve goes. Fortunately about 90% of simple radiculopathies get better on their own over about 3-6 months. Your nervous system is pretty adaptable, and even though the nerves exit canal get’s a little smaller, it quickly adapts and is able to continue its work. In a small percentage of cases, the compression is too great and the nerve requires de-compression surgery to maintain it’s health. Since it is hard to know for sure which group you fall into, any pain, numbness or weakness in the legs or pain in the low back that doesn’t improve should be evaluated by your healthcare provider. Read more about the “red flags” of back pain as well and understand your risks.
To learn more about lumbar radiculopathy or to schedule a consultation contact us.