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Lumbar Radiculopathy

What is Lumbar Radiculopathy?

Lumbar radiculopathy, commonly called sciatica, is an injury to the nerve in the lower back that causes pain and numbness that radiates down the legs. Symptoms also may include tingling, weakness, and reflex loss in the leg and feet. A nerve root in any of the five lumbar vertebrae can be damaged, irritated, or compressed by one of many conditions, including tumors, infections, disk herniation, spinal stenosis, and cervical radiculopathy.

Both non-surgical and minimally invasive treatment options may be available to alleviate lumbar radiculopathy.

Causes of Lumbar Radiculopathy

Most commonly, people ages 30-50 experience lumbar radiculopathy because of degenerative conditions that appear or worsen with age, such as arthritis and osteoarthritis. Bone spurs, herniated disks, and spinal stenosis may cause a compression of the spinal canal, contributing to lumbar radiculopathy. Tumors of the spine or infections can also cause the condition.

Early Signs of Lumbar Radiculopathy and Diagnosis

Sciatica varies in intensity, frequency, and duration. Symptoms include a sharp or burning pain that travels down the leg and makes walking and standing uncomfortable; sharp or burning pain that worsens when sitting; a steady pain in one leg or buttock; muscle spasms; numbness in the feet and legs; and a feeling of weakness in the legs or difficulty moving the lower extremities.

Our spine specialists diagnose sciatica with X-ray, MRI, or CT scans, and electromyography to test nerve function.

What to expect during treatment for Lumbar Radiculopathy

Your doctor may use X-rays, CT scans, an MRI, or an electromyography, as well as a physical exam, to determine the severity of your lumbar radiculopathy. The condition is often treatable through non-surgical options, such as medication and physical therapy. Pain medication and corticosteroids, which relieve inflammation, are often effective in reducing symptoms. Surgical intervention may be considered if these more conservative treatments fail to provide relief.

The treatment your doctor recommends will depend on the cause and severity of your lumbar radiculopathy, as well as other factors. Surgical options that would either decompress the nerve or stabilize the spine and might include a fusion or lumbar laminectomy. The vast majority of patients who undergo surgery experience relief from their symptoms.

What You Can Expect at UTHealth Neurosciences

The UTHealth Neurosciences Spine Center brings together a multidisciplinary team of board-certified, fellowship-trained neurosurgeons, neurologists, researchers, and pain management specialists who work together to help provide relief for even the most complex problems. Your team will share insights, leading to better treatment decisions and outcomes.

We first investigate nonsurgical treatment options, including medical management, pain management, physical therapy, rehabilitation, and watchful waiting. When surgery is needed, our neurosurgeons routinely employ innovative minimally invasive techniques. Throughout the treatment process, we will work closely with the doctor who referred you to ensure a smooth transition back to your regular care. While you are with us, you will receive expert care, excellent communication, and genuine compassion.

Anatomy of the neck and spine

The spine is divided into the following regions:

  • The cervical region (vertebrae C1-C7) encompasses the first seven vertebrae under the skull. Their main function is to support the weight of the head, which averages 10 pounds. The cervical vertebrae are more mobile than other areas, with the atlas and axis vertebra facilitating a wide range of motion in the neck. Openings in these vertebrae allow arteries to carry blood to the brain and permit the spinal cord to pass through. They are the thinnest and most delicate vertebrae.
  • The thoracic region (vertebrae T1-T12) is composed of 12 small bones in the upper chest. Thoracic vertebrae are the only ones that support the ribs. Muscle tension from poor posture, arthritis, and osteoporosis are common sources of pain in this region.
  • The lumbar region (vertebrae L1-L5) features vertebrae that are much larger to absorb the stress of lifting and carrying heavy objects. Injuries to the lumbar region can result in some loss of function in the hips, legs, and bladder control.
  • The sacral region (vertebrae S1-S5) includes a large bone at the bottom of the spine. The sacrum is triangular-shaped and consists of five fused bones that protect the pelvic organs.

Spine Disease and Back Pain


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At UTHealth Neurosciences, we offer patients access to specialized neurological care at clinics across the greater Houston area. To ask us a question, schedule an appointment, or learn more about us, please call (713) 486-8100, or click below to send us a message. In the event of an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.


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