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What Is Lumbar Radiculitis?

By Michelle Kerns ; Updated July 27, 2017

Lumbar radiculitis is a painful spinal problem whose origin is in the lumbar region of the spine, but can create a variety of symptoms that affect the afflicted individual anywhere from the lower back to the foot. The symptoms associated with lumbar radiculitis vary according to which nerve or nerves are affected. A number of treatment options for the condition exist, including various pain management medications, therapy, and surgery.


Lumbar radiculitis is an umbrella term for a painful condition occuring along the root of any of the nerves extending from the lower (also known as lumbar) region of the spine. The pain may result from the lumbar nerve being either pinched, inflammed, irritated, or not working properly because of a lack of proper blood supply. While the symptoms experienced by each individual may vary widely depending on which nerves are affected, unrelenting pain is a common denominator in all lumbar radiculitis cases.


The different types of lumbar radiculitis are determined by which nerves are affected. One of the most common is sciatica, in which pain, partial loss of control, numbness, and weakness in a leg or sometimes both the leg and foot are due to the problems stemming from either the sciatic nerve or one of the nerve roots feeding into it. Compression of other specific spinal nerves in the lumbar region result in various specific symptoms.


Although the pain each individual feels is specific to the spinal nerves that are affected, there are some commonly experienced symptoms of lumbar radiculitis; these include pain in the lower back, often extending down through the buttock of one side and into the leg on that side; sharp pain in the hip region; and pain all along the back side of the leg that can be described as stabbing or burning. While the pain may increase or decrease at certain times and with certain activities or positions, most sufferers agree that the pain never completely diminishes.


Before a physician can accurately diagnose lumbar radiculitis, a thorough medical examination must be performed to rule out any other medical problems. After other conditions have been ruled out, the next step would be a series of scans, including a CT scan and an MRI. In addition, tests that look at the conduction ability of the nerve tissue in question, such as an electromyography or an evoked potential test, would be used to determine if a particular nerve has been damaged. A myelography, in which dye is injected within the spinal cord in order to take x-rays of the area in question, may also be required to get a better look at any potentially affected nerves.


Lumbar radiculitis can be treated in a number of ways. Nearly all of the treatment options fall within one of three categories: pain management, therapy, or surgery.

Pain killers, muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatory drugs, and anesthetics are all commonly used to help individuals deal with the pain of lumbar radiculitis. After the pain is under control, the individual can them move on to one of many therapy options, including physical therapy, massage therapy, or chiropractic help. If therapy doesn't alleviate the discomfort, and particularly if the pain originated with a disc herniation, surgery can be a highly successful option.

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