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Symptoms. Lumbar Radiculopathy: Lower Back Pain

By Editorial Team (A)
February 14, 2022

Lumbar Radiculopathy Symptoms

Lumbar radiculopathy symptoms vary depending on which nerve roots are affected. The most widely recognized manifestations are pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in the legs. These symptoms indicate that the nerve roots along the spinal cord are irritated. Occasionally the skin might be abnormally sensitive to the touch. If any of these side effects are evident, a person should consult a doctor for a precise conclusion.

The most common radiculopathy symptom is sciatica. Sciatica pain typically travels from the back to the buttocks and occasionally down to the feet. Notably, symptoms vary based on the type of radiculopathy you have. They can affect particular areas of your back, arms, and legs and include: 

  • a sharp pain that may intensify with specific activities
  • a shooting pain
  • numbness
  • tingling sensations
  • change or loss of reflexes

Lumbar radiculopathy symptoms include persistent pain that travels from the lower back into the backs of the upper thighs. In some people, the pain continues to the foot. This pain is usually sharp and is worse when you stand, walk or sit. Other lumbar radiculopathy symptoms are muscle weakness and decreased reflexes. Notably, if lumbar radiculopathy affects the nerves in the upper lumbar spine, pain occurs in the front part of the leg and the shins.

Lumbar Radiculopathy Diagnosis

The diagnosis of lumbar radiculopathy starts with a thorough medical history review and physical examination by the doctor. The healthcare provider will inquire about medical history, type, area and severity of symptoms, what triggers them, and what other back issues may be present. By identifying the exact location of the patient’s symptoms, the specialist can help confine the affected nerve. During the physical examination, the focus will be on the farthest point. The specialist will check the patient’s muscle quality, sensation, and reflexes to determine any anomalies. Afterward, the doctor may direct the patient to imaging tests to find the source of the radiculopathy. Plain X-rays are regularly acquired first. This test can often detect the presence of injury or osteoarthritis and reveal early signs of tumors and infection. Following this, an MRI can be performed. This test allows for a thorough examination of the delicate tissues surrounding the spine. However, it is not possible to perform MRI tests in some patients. In this case, the doctor may order a CT (computerized tomography) scan to see if there is nerve pressure. The specialist may arrange a nerve conduction study or electromyogram (EMG) on some occasions. These examinations measure the electrical activity along the nerve and can detect nerve damage. 

Depending on the patient’s medical history and physical examination, ordered tests may include: 

  • X-ray: X-rays can show the location and cause of injuries like herniated plates, osteoarthritis, and other conditions. This procedure can also assist in lumbar radiculopathy diagnosis.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): An MRI utilizes magnetic fields and radio waves to produce a detailed image of the body’s organs and tissues. It can detect subtle spine elements, including tumors, nerves, and spinal damage. An MRI scan can show structures that typically cannot be seen on an X-ray. Sometimes, contrast dye is infused into a vein in the hand or arm during the test, highlighting specific tissues and structures to make them more clearly visible. In instances of radiculopathy, the affected nerves will be shown.
  • Computerized Tomography (CT) scan is a non-invasive strategy that utilizes X-rays to create a three-dimensional picture of the spine. CT demonstrates more details than an X-ray and can be used in conjunction with an MRI to detect pressure on the nerves.

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