AOPT Health Blog
Lumbar Radiculopathy and Sciatica

Low back pain is a very common condition, with an estimated 3 million cases in the US per year. The mechanism of injury for lumbar radiculopathy and sciatica can vary from an acute injury to long term stress on the back. Regardless of how it has been acquired, conservative treatment with physical therapy has been shown to be very effective.

Cause

Lumbar radiculopathy and sciatica occur when a nerve in your low back becomes injured, pinched, or compressed causing pain and other symptoms. These conditions are most common in people between the ages of 30-50. Risk factors include:

  • Repetitive lifting
  • Participating in weight-bearing sports
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Poor posture

Signs and Symptoms

The location and severity of your symptoms depends on which nerve is affected and to what extent it is irritated. Common symptoms include:

  • Pain that begins in the low back but can spread into the hips or down the legs.
  • Pain that can be described as throbbing, aching, shooting, sharp, dull, or burning
  • Muscle tightness and weakness
  • Inability to bend or rotate through your trunk
  • Numbness and/or tingling
  • Increased pain with coughing, sneezing, reaching, or sitting
  • Inability to remain in one position for an extended amount of time
  • Limping

See a medical professional immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Sudden, severe pain in your low back and leg and numbness or decreased strength in your leg
  • You experience pain following a violent injury
  • You experience trouble controlling your bowels or bladder

Prevention

Lumbar radiculopathy and sciatica may be preventable. The following list includes tips to help prevent these conditions:

  • Practice good posture when sitting and standing
  • Use proper mechanics when lifting, pushing, or pulling to avoid excess stress on the spine
  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Keep your muscles strong and flexible
  • Discuss your occupation with a physical therapist so they can help you analyze your activities and plan for ways to reduce the risk of injury

Treatment

Conservative treatment (such as physical therapy) is recommended and is effective in all but the most severe cases. A physical therapist will assess your history, strength, range of motion, and other symptoms to determine what is most likely the cause of your pain. From there they will develop a treatment plan tailored to you which may include a combination of stretches, exercises, manual therapy, and education on what to do at home. Healing time for these conditions varies but often improvement can be seen in 4-8 weeks so long as patients comply with their treatment plan.

For severe cases, surgery may be required in order to prevent further damage. Following surgery your physical therapist will work closely with your surgeon to help you regain strength and motion and be able to return to your normal daily activities as soon as possible.

Here at Advanced Orthopedic Physical Therapy, we have two orthopedic specialists who are experienced in treating conditions of the spine. Schedule a free screen with them to discuss how physical therapy can help you.

References

Retrieved from https://www.choosept.com/symptomsconditionsdetail/physical-therapy-guide-to-lumbar-radiculopathy-sciatica
Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sciatica/symptoms-causes/syc-20377435


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