Lumbar Nerve Root Compression (Radiculopathy)

Well done! You’ve taken the first steps to understanding and relieving your Nerve Root Compression of the lumbar spine! Once you read this page, answer the questions on the sheet given by your physiotherapist at Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy Australia and bring that to your next treatment session. Recovery from your Nerve Root Compression is crucial in order to achieve your goals and gain rapid and long-lasting results. Your physiotherapist at Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy Australia has requested that you read this page so that you understand your condition and know how to best manage in between physiotherapy consultations. Radiculopathy

What is Nerve Root Compression (Radiculopathy)?

Nerve Root Compression, clinically known as Radiculopathy, refers to a condition involving the spinal nerve roots.This condition most commonly affects the lumbar (low back) nerve roots, but may also be associated with the cervical (neck) nerve roots. Symptoms typically are referred elsewhere into the limbs, known as referred pain, with minimal symptoms at the site of injury. This condition goes by many names so it can often be confusing, but essentially they all mean the same thing. You may have heard these names before; Nerve Root Compression, Lumbar Radiculopathy, Nerve Irritation, Nerve Pain, Pinched Nerve or Sciatica. The term Sciatica is often used to describe the symptoms of Lumbar Radiculopathy. Symptoms arising from Lumbar Radiculopathy include pain, weakness, numbness, tingling or pins and needles down the leg depending on the level of the nerve root affected.
  • Constant low back pain
  • Constant pain in only one side (rarely in both sides) of the buttock, leg, foot, arm or hands/fingers
  • Pain that is worse when sitting
  • Leg, foot, arm or hand/finger pain that is often described as burning, tingling, or searing (versus a dull ache)
  • Weakness, numbness, or difficulty moving the leg, foot/toes, arms, hands/fingers
  • A sharp pain that may make it difficult to stand up or walk, or to use the arms/hands
  • Pain that radiates down the leg and possibly into the foot and toes, or down the arm and possibly into the hand and fingers.
On the picture below, you can see that each level in the spine refers to a different area of the body that may be affected. The yellow nerve roots exiting at each level will innervate (supply) a different area of the body. These specific areas are called ‘dermatomes’. Weakness of certain movements of the hip, knee and ankle can also be affected, again due to the distribution of the nerves. This is referred to as the ‘myotomes’, which are outlined in the table below.
Lower limb dermatome

Lower limb dermatome

Lower limb myotome

Lower limb myotome

Symptoms may include one or more of the following:
  • Constant low back pain
  • Constant pain in only one side (rarely in both sides) of the buttock, leg, or foot
  • Pain that is worse when sitting
  • Leg or foot pain that is often described as burning, tingling, or searing (versus a dull ache)
  • Weakness, numbness, or difficulty moving the leg, foot/toes.
  • A sharp pain that may make it difficult to stand up or walk.
  • Pain that radiates down the leg and possibly into the foot and toes.
Exactly where you feel your symptoms will be dependent on which nerve root level is affected. For example, a L3 nerve root compression will cause symptoms to be felt in the knee region, as opposed to a S1 nerve root compression, which will cause symptoms to be felt down calf or ankle.  

What happens to the body?

Nerve Root Compression may be caused by any number of conditions affecting your spine including disc herniation, spinal stenosis, osteophyte formation, spondylolisthesis, foraminal stenosis, and other spinal disorders. As the spine, or other tissue impedes on the nerve root’s exit route from the spinal canal, the nerve root becomes compressed. This compression affects the innervations of the area of the body that the nerve root supplies.  

How do I know I what condition is causing my Nerve Root Compression?

The best method for diagnosing the specific medical condition is a gentle manual assessment that all Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy Australia Clinicians are highly skilled at performing.  

How can you help me with my Nerve Root Compression?

Your Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy Australia Clinician will determine the best course of action with regard to your Nerve Root Compression. This will involve diagnosing the specific cause of your Nerve Root Compression. Usually, treatment will involve decompressing the nerve roots through manual therapy, and strengthening supporting structures, while stretching any tight structures to avoid recurring injury. Radiculopathy Lumbar spine

What should I do to avoid aggravating my Nerve Root Compression?

  • DO NOT smoke.
  • DO NOT sit for longer than absolutely necessary.
  • DO NOT sit with slumped posture, or bend down to pick things up using a stoop lift.
  • REMAIN ACTIVE, but avoid aggravating activities.
  • RECEIVE physiotherapy care to get your joints, ligaments and muscles de-loaded and moving freely with no restrictions.
Keep good care of your body and your physiotherapist will continue to monitor your condition. Once your NerveRoot Compression has resolved you will be able to resume your full activities without worrying about future flare-ups.

Tips from our physiotherapists

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