Lumbar radiculopathy is pain in the lower extremities along the course of a nerve coming from the low back. It is most commonly seen in our practice coming from the longest nerve in your body, the sciatic nerve which is referred to as sciatica. It controls many of the muscles in your lower legs and provides feeling to your thigh, legs and feet. Symptoms include radiating pain from your low back into the buttocks, down the legs and to the feet.

This pain can be dull, sharp, burning or aching in nature. There can also be hypersensitivity to touch, numbness or tingling to the skin of the affected area. We’ve also heard descriptions of "pins and needles" or electric jolts. Severe cases will have weakness of the leg muscles. All symptoms can be worsened by a cough or sneeze. There are times when pain in the heels only is caused by radiculopathy and not plantar fasciitis which is the most common form of heel pain.

Causes of radiculopathy are varied but mostly commonly occur when the nerve root (where the nerve begins) is compressed. The compression can come from a herniated disc, bone spurs around the spine or contracted muscles. Other causes can include trauma to the spine or infection as well as spine tumors. The more severe the compression on the nerve and the longer it occurs, the worse the symptoms will become.

There are certain risk factors that may put you on the path to radiculopathy. The most common cause of sciatica is age related changes in the spine. The older you get the more likely you are to develop some low back symptoms. A job that requires twisting, stooping or carrying heavy loads is also a risk factor. Also, those that are sedentary or sit for long periods of time are at increased risk for low back pain.

Diagnosis of lumbar radiculopathy includes a medical history including detailed information regarding low back symptoms and complete examination of the lower extremities including muscle strength and sensation as well as flexibility of the hips and back. Xrays are the first step to evaluating the bones and joints, but an MRI or CT may also be useful in evaluating the cause of your pain.

Treatment may include anti-inflammatories and rest along with physical therapy. Custom orthotics may also be helpful in the beginning to reduce strain to the low back by properly aligning the lower extremity joints. In some cases, surgery may be necessary. Once the initial evaluation of the lower extremities has been performed and the possibility of lumbar radiculopathy as been established, then a referral to a spine specialist is often made for further evaluation and treatment.