Lumbar Radiculopathy (Sciatica)
Also known as Sciatica, lumbar radiculopathy occurs when the lumbar region of the spine is compressed, inflamed, or injured. This causes pain in the sciatic nerve, located in your lower back and extending down each leg. This is extremely common during pregnancy or after straining the lower back.
What causes Lumbar Radiculopathy?
The causes of sciatica are varied from person to person, but in most cases, it has to do with injuring the spine. The sciatic nerve is located in the lower back, and is connected to the spine. When the spine is injured, it can cause a disc to pop or slip out of place. Unfortunately, sciatica is generally caused by underlying conditions. The doctor may diagnose you with a herniated disc, which could be causing the sciatic pain. This puts stress on the muscles around it. This is one of the ways the sciatic nerve gets compressed. Another cause can be when the back is strained from obesity or from pregnancy. This causes the spine to have much more strain on a daily basis, which can create compression on the sciatic nerve from those muscles contracting or elongating. Another cause of sciatica is degenerative disc disease, which usually occurs due to age. As we age, the discs in the spine may become hardened or flattened, which causes strain as well. This can also create bone spurs along the vertebrae, which are commonly located near the sciatic nerve. This can pinch the nerve as well.
Symptoms of Sciatica
The most common symptom of lumbar radiculopathy is pain in the sciatic nerve. This is most commonly reported as a sharp, radiating pain that travels from your lower back down to your buttock and thigh. This could be more throbbing pain in the same region. Sciatic pain can also lead to incontinence or weakness in the legs. This happens because the nerves are becoming damaged! Sometimes the pain can even extend all the way down to the foot, ankle, and calf. This kind of extensive pain is very indicative of a more severe form of lumbar radiculopathy. A common way to tell if your back pain is sciatica is the presence of one-sided pain. This means that the back and only one leg hurt, rather than both legs. Another symptom is that sciatica patients tend to feel an increase in pain when bending over, hunching, or sitting down. In more uncommon situations, some patients have reported numbness or tingling in the legs and feet.
Diagnosis and Testing
If you visit your doctor for these symptoms, they will conduct a series of examinations to determine if it is sciatica or not. One of these tests is called the SLR test, or the straight leg raise test. This is when the patient lies on their back and lifts their leg straight up while keeping the other bent or flat. If this cannot be done without pain, it is generally an indicator of lumbar radiculopathy. Another simple test is called the slump test. This is when a patient slouches over while in a sitting position, bending at the hip. If this causes pain it can also indicate sciatica.
Most doctors will do a preliminary x-ray, to see if there are any cracks in the vertebrae and see what the spinal shape looks like. This will usually not lead to a diagnosis of sciatica, but will rule out some other options. The doctor will then usually order an MRI. An MRI is a test that is done usually at a hospital that can produce high-resolution images of the inside of your body, specifically inside the spine. This can show the doctor what your discs look like, which can help to diagnose any issues with that. It is usually after getting an MRI that a doctor can recommend different forms of treatment.
Treatment of Sciatica
There are several forms of treatment for sciatic pain, which depend on what caused it in the first place. If there is not a more severe underlying cause like a bone spur or a diseased disc, there are many non-surgical options.
One of the most common options for sciatic pain is physical therapy. This can consist of stretches and things that do not need assistance, or some that require help from a physical therapist. A sciatic stretcher is a great option for at-home physical therapy. These are bands or other stretching devices that help the muscles to expand and contract instead of being locked into place. A sciatic stretcher can usually be purchased online for around $40. This can help quite a bit if you are wanting to try non-surgical options first. Another option is medication. Many pain medications are also anti-inflammatory, which can help the inflamed area around the spine to heal. Pain management can be difficult, so make sure to ask your doctor for help. An option for pain management is injections of steroids and other drugs that can be prescribed by a doctor.
Sometimes, sciatic pain will not go away on its own or with other options. In these cases, surgery may have to be performed. This is usually needed for removing bone spurs, fixing damaged discs, or removing any tumors that may be causing that pain. Surgery is obviously a more invasive option, so trying other options first is almost always the best idea. Surgery also takes some recovery time as well, but it can at times be the most effective option.
What should I do?
If you are experiencing these symptoms, make an appointment with a registered orthopedic doctor today. They can help you to find out what may be causing your pain and help you to find the best option for treatment. These symptoms are significant and can be indicative of a serious issue. Anytime nerve damage may be done, the problem needs to be fixed as soon as possible. Take care of your body and you will find that you can live a much happier life!