skip to main content
Main Site Navigation
Top of main content

What Is Lumbosacral Radiculopathy?

Lumbosacral radiculopathy is a common condition involving spinal nerves and nerve roots in the low back (lumbar) and bottom of the spine (sacrum). It affects 3–5% of the population, men and women equally. Men in their 40s and women 50–60 years old have it most often. It’s a major cause of disability and the primary reason for workers’ compensation disability in the United States.

What Causes Lumbosacral Radiculopathy?

Pressure from herniated (ruptured, or slipped) disks lead to irritation and inflammation (swelling) of nerve roots. Disk degeneration is another cause. Disks are cartilage pads that separate bones (vertebrae) in the spine. These shock absorbers cushion moving vertebrae. With age, the tough disk covering can tear. The jelly-like substance in the disk center can seep out (herniate), press on nerve roots, and cause symptoms. Other causes are spinal stenosis (narrowing), tumors, infections, and trauma.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Lumbosacral Radiculopathy?

Symptoms include pain and numbness in the arms or legs and muscle weakness. The most common symptom is sciatica: pain that goes along the path of the sciatic nerve, the longest nerve in the body. This nerve runs from the back down the buttock and leg (back of the thigh and calf). Sciatica is a symptom of a problem such as a herniated disk. Other symptoms are numbness, tingling, and loss of bladder or bowel control.

How Is Lumbosacral Radiculopathy Diagnosed?

The health care provider takes a medical history and does a physical examination, especially of the spine and legs, and checks muscle strength and reflexes. Because most people improve with rest, self care, and medications, imaging tests are not always needed. For persistent pain, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is the main imaging test. X-rays, computed tomography (CT), myelography, and electrodiagnostic studies (e.g., nerve conduction) are also used.

How Is Lumbosacral Radiculopathy Treated?

Most people need no treatment, or pain goes away with self-care measures. These include hot or cold packs, stretching, exercises, and over-the-counter pain medicines. Physical therapy helps recovery; prolonged bed rest is not recommended. People need to get moving as soon as possible. Rehabilitation can help prevent new injuries. For more chronic, nondisabling pain, lifestyle changes with weight loss and health club membership are best. Exercises correct posture, strengthen back muscles, and improve flexibility. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), muscle relaxants, analgesics, and steroid injections may be given. If these treatments don’t work, or for certain symptoms, surgery is needed.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Lumbosacral Radiculopathy:

  • DO make a lifelong commitment to exercise. The most important risk factor for future back pain is a previous episode. Pay special attention to your core muscles—those in your abdomen (belly) and lower back that are essential for good posture and alignment.
  • DO practice good body mechanics and posture when sitting, standing, and lifting. Take frequent breaks, even just walking around your office. Lift and carry heavy objects properly.
  • DO learn all you can about your condition, to help manage your pain.
  • DON’T give up. If you don’t feel better, ask your health care provider about starting a special treatment program.
  • DON’T rest in bed for more than 48 hours, to avoid blood clots and getting weaker.
  • DON’T lift or push any heavy objects unless you know how to do so safely.

Contact the following source:

  • American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons
    Tel: (847) 823-7186
  • American Academy of Family Physicians
    Tel: (800) 274-2237

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

Ferri’s Netter Patient Advisor

Not sure which type of care is right for you?

We can help.