Lumbar radiculopathy is also known as radiculitis or sciatica. This condition occurs when a nerve in your lower back is compressed, injured, or pinched, causing pain or other symptoms. Sciatica symptoms can extend from your lower back to the foot, hip, or leg. Lumbar radiculopathy can occur due to sudden trauma or develop over time due to stress on the structures in your back. The condition mainly affects people between 30 and 50 years old. One way of treating lumbar radiculopathy and sciatica is through physical therapy. If you have persistent low back pain and need a reliable physical therapist in Las Vegas, Suarez Physical Therapy can help.

The Common Risk Factors

The common risk factors for sciatica include:

  • Repeated lifting.
  • Poor posture.
  • Engaging in weight-bearing sports.
  • Smoking.
  • Obesity.
  • Sedentary lifestyle.

Most lumbar radiculopathy and sciatica cases do not need surgery, as most patients respond well to physical therapy. Your physical therapist can design a personalized treatment program to reduce your pain, help you regain normal movement, and resume your normal activities. Physical therapists improve patients' quality of life through patient education, hands-on care, and prescribed movement. You can contact your physical therapist directly for an evaluation.

Lumbar Radiculopathy And Sciatica Explained

Your spine consists of vertebrae (small bones) stacked on each other. There are openings on each side of the vertebra, through which the nerves and nerve roots exit your spinal canal and move to your legs, hips, and feet. There is a piece of cartilage known as an intervertebral disc between each vertebra. This disc serves as a cushion between the vertebrae.

If you suffer injuries to your spine, you can experience pressure or injury to the nerves and the nerve roots. The common injuries include:

  • Overstretching of the nerves or nerve roots.
  • Bulging intervertebral discs, a condition known as herniated disc.
  • Tight piriformis muscle.

Lumbar radiculopathy can also develop over time due to the following conditions:

  • Arthritis.
  • Bone spurs.
  • Inflammation.

Sudden injuries can occur due to a fall, involvement in an accident, or when you lift an object awkwardly. You can sustain injuries to the structures surrounding your spine, including the nerves and ligaments. Standing or sitting with poor posture can lead to a slow onset of the illness. The condition can develop slowly over weeks, months, or even years. Poor posture gradually overstretches the ligaments in your back, allowing pressure to build up on the spinal nerve. As the pressure builds up, the pain can radiate further along the nerve path, causing discomfort in the leg, hip, or foot.

How Lumbar Radiculopathy And Sciatica Feel Like

If you have lumbar radiculopathy, you can experience weakness, muscle tightness, pain, and other symptoms. The pain starts in your lower back and can travel to your hip, foot, or leg. The location of the pain could vary depending on the affected nerve and the extent of nerve irritation. The pain will spread further if there is extensive nerve irritation. Sciatica pain usually affects one leg but can sometimes affect both legs. The pain and other discomfort can be persistent or come and go. The pain can also vary in intensity.

If your nerve or nerve root is severely compressed or pinched, it can lead to severe pain, extreme movement problems, and muscle weakness. In severe cases, surgery might be the only remedy. Sometimes, nerve compression can interfere with your bowel function or bladder control, so you will need to undergo immediate surgery.

When you consult a physical therapist, he/she will consider the details of your condition to determine whether you need surgery. If surgery is necessary, your physical therapist will work with your surgeon or physician to determine the best treatment.

The Signs And Symptoms

Lumbar radiculopathy and sciatica can cause several signs and symptoms. The intensity and location of the symptoms can vary depending on the extent of pressure exerted on the nerves. Typical symptoms include:

  • Pressure or pain in your back, hips, and legs.
  • Inability to bend or rotate your back.
  • Pain that can be aching, throbbing, shooting, dull, sharp, or burning.
  • Tingling or numbness in the back, legs, feet, or hips.
  • Weakness in one or both legs.
  • Difficulty getting up from a chair.
  • Increased pain when sneezing, coughing, sitting, or reaching.
  • Inability to remain in one position for too long. For example, you cannot sit or stand for too long due to the pain.
  • Inability to stand straight. You can be stuck in one position, like stooping forward.
  • Pain that seems worse in the morning.
  • Limping when you walk.

Pain or other discomfort can occur in one or both limbs. The pain can vary in intensity and occur at different locations at different times. Your pain will vary depending on your body's positioning and activity. For example, you could notice that the pain worsens while sitting vs. standing or standing up vs. lying down.

Diagnosis Of Lumbar Radiculopathy And Sciatica

When diagnosing lumbar radiculopathy sciatica, your physical therapist conducts a comprehensive evaluation, including inquiring about your health history. Your therapist will ask you questions about your   like:

  • How and when the pain started.
  • Whether you have a loss of bowel or bladder control. You should seek immediate treatment if you notice a loss of bowel or bladder control.
  • Whether the pain gets worse at a certain time of the day.
  • The type and intensity of the discomfort you experience and when you feel it.
  • Whether the pain interferes with your ability to engage in certain activities.

Your physical therapist can perform some additional tests to identify issues like:

  • Muscle weakness or tightness.
  • Difficulty moving.
  • Numbness or changes in skin sensation.
  • Joint Stiffness.
  • Changes in reflexes.
  • Difficulty balancing or walking.
  • Changes in posture.

The physical therapy treatment will commence immediately if the therapist establishes that you have any of the problems mentioned above. Physical therapy aims to alleviate pain, restore normal function, and enable you to resume normal activities.

Your physical therapist can consult your surgeon or physician if the testing reveals advanced problems. The surgeon or physician can recommend special diagnostic testing, like magnetic resonance imaging. Physical therapists work closely with physicians to ensure patients receive proper diagnosis, treatment, and aftercare.

How A Physical Therapist Can Help

In most cases of lumbar radiculopathy, conservative treatment methods like physical therapy are effective in alleviating pain. Physical therapy results in faster and better results than pain medication and invasive treatment methods like surgery. However, in an extreme case of lumbar radiculopathy, surgery is necessary.

A physical therapist works with a patient to create a specific treatment program that speeds recovery. A physical therapist also recommends exercises that a patient can do at home. Physical therapy helps you resume normal activities and lifestyles. The time it takes for the symptoms to fade away varies. However, you will likely notice a significant improvement in 4 to 8 weeks. Your physical therapist focuses on pain reduction, proper posture, a strengthening program, and stretching.

In the first 24 to 48 hours after the diagnosis of lumbar radiculopathy, your physical therapist can advise you to:

  • Avoid engaging in any activities that could make the symptoms worse. For example, your physical therapist can advise you to avoid heavy lifting.
  • Stay active around your house and take short walks throughout the day. Movements help to reduce pain and stiffness, making you feel better sooner.
  • Avoid prolonged bedrest.
  • Ensure that you sit on firm chairs. A soft couch or chair could make the pain worse.
  • Apply ice packs to the affected area for around 20 minutes every two hours.
  • Consult a physician for additional services like diagnostic tests and medication.

Certain exercises work best for people with lumbar radiculopathy. Your physical therapist will advise you regarding these exercises.

  • If other forms of exercise are painful, water exercises can help you stay active.
  • Your physical therapist can recommend specific exercises aimed at reducing leg pain.
  • Exercises like bending or twisting might not be effective. Your physical therapist will develop a personalized exercise program for your unique needs.
  • Even if weight training exercises are important, you must be careful when engaging in them to ensure that you do not put additional pressure on your back.

Physical therapists work with patients to:

Alleviate Pain And Other Symptoms

Your physical therapist will help you understand and modify the activities that could have caused the injury. By addressing the underlying factors, the healing process can commence. Your physical therapist can employ different technologies and treatments to reduce and control the pain and symptoms. The specific treatment will depend on your condition. Treatment options include applying cold or hot packs. Gentle electrotherapy, like transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, abbreviated as TENS, is also effective.

Improve Flexibility

Your physical therapist will identify the tight muscles and help you stretch them. Your therapist will also teach you how to stretch your muscles at home.

Improve Motion

The physical therapist can choose exercises and treatments to restore normal movement in your stiff joints. These could be passive motions that the physical therapist performs to enable you to move your spine. You will also receive instructions on active and progressive exercises you can do independently. You can perform the exercise at home or at work to enhance pain relief and speed up healing.

Improve Strength

If your physical therapist finds any injured or weak muscles, the therapist will teach you the right exercises to restore your strength and agility. Core strengthening exercises can help restore muscle coordination and strength around your back, pelvis, hips, and abdomen.

Improve Posture

Your physical therapist will also teach you to improve your posture since poor posture is a leading cause of back pain. Proper posture minimizes pressure on the injured bones, allowing the healing process to commence and progress as fast as possible.

Improve Endurance

After an injury, it is crucial to improve muscle endurance. Your physical therapist will create a program with activities to help you build and improve endurance after an injury.

A Home Program

Physical therapy is effective because your therapist can teach you stretching, strengthening, and pain reduction activities that you can do at home. These exercises are tailored to your unique needs. You can speed up the recovery process by adhering to your physical therapist's recommended exercises.

Resume Normal Activities

Your physical therapist will discuss and use your activity levels to set your sport, work, and home-life recovery plan. Adhering to the treatment program will help you reach your goals safely, quickly, and effectively. If lumbar radiculopathy is causing you leg or spine pain, your physical therapist will teach you body mechanics, including how to lift objects. Learning the proper body mechanics helps you protect your spine from aggravating factors.

You must continue with the new posture even when your pain fades away or is under control. In addition, you should embrace the proper posture and movement habits to keep your back healthy and pain-free.

If You Undergo Surgery

If you have severe lumbar radiculopathy, surgery might be necessary to prevent further damage. If you happen to undergo surgery, your therapist will work with you after the surgery to speed up the healing process. Physical therapy will help you regain strength and motion more quickly than without physical therapy. You will be back to your normal lifestyle as soon as possible.

The Best Exercises For Lumbar Radiculopathy

Most of the time, treating lumbar radiculopathy with exercises is enough. You should speak to your doctor to identify the treatment that suits your needs. The best exercises for lumbar radiculopathy focus on restoring your ability to move and strengthening your abdominal muscles. Engaging in improper movement could do more harm than good. Building endurance is paramount. The typical exercises for lumbar radiculopathy focus on your stomach muscles and hip joints. Below are the common exercises for lumbar radiculopathy and sciatica:

  • Hip flexor stretch – this exercise helps to increase rotation and mobility.
  • Quadriceps stretch – the exercise helps in improving lumbar flexibility.
  • Bring your knees to the chest – this simple move stretches out your lower back.
  • Crunches (curl-ups) – crunches help to strengthen the abdominal muscles and reduce sciatica pain.
  • Upward Dog – this common yoga pose stretches the deep chest and builds core muscles.

You should not exercise without consulting a physical therapist to prevent further injury. A physical therapist will guide you on exercising at home to ensure you position your body correctly. When dealing with radiculopathy, it is best to change or reduce any activities that worsen the pain. Use heat and ice to manage the pain when needed.

Whether Lumbar Radiculopathy Is Preventable

To some extent, lumbar radiculopathy is preventable. You can do the following to reduce the likelihood of developing the condition:

  • Ensure that you practice the proper posture while standing, sitting, and operating a vehicle.
  • Use the proper body mechanics when pushing, pulling, lifting, or performing any other action to ensure that you do not put extra stress on your spine.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight helps reduce the strain on your spine.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Ensure that your muscles are strong and flexible. You can do this by participating in a consistent exercise program and maintaining a healthy fitness level.
  • Discuss your occupation with your physical therapist. When your physical therapist understands your job, he/she can offer insight on how you can maintain a healthy fitness level.

You can do the following to prevent the recurrence of lumbar radiculopathy:

  • Ensure that you follow the posture and movement habits that you learn from your physical therapist to keep your back healthy.
  • Exercise regularly to ensure that you are physically fit and active.
  • Continue with your physical therapist's home exercise program to maintain the improvement.

Choosing A Physical Therapist

When choosing a physical therapist to treat your lumbar radiculopathy, you will have many options. When choosing a physical therapist, you should consider the following:

  • Choose a physical therapist with experience treating musculoskeletal or orthopedic problems.
  • Go for a board-certified physical therapist who has completed a fellowship or residency in orthopedic physical therapy. Choose a therapist with advanced experience, knowledge, and skills for your condition.

The American Physical Therapy Association maintains an online tool: Find a PT. You can use this online resource to help you search for a physical therapist with experience in your location. Here are some additional tips that you can employ when looking for a physical therapist:

  • Seek recommendations from friends, family members, or other healthcare providers.
  • If you are considering a particular physical therapist, you should not hesitate to ask about their experience handling patients with herniated discs.
  • During the initial consultation with your physical therapist, you should describe your symptoms as clearly as possible. Ensure you provide as many details as possible, including the circumstances that worsen your symptoms.

Find A Reliable Physical Therapist Near Me

If you suffer from lumbar radiculopathy, you should consider physical therapy. Most patients respond to physical therapy and do not need a surgical intervention. Ensure that you work with a physical therapist experienced in handling lumbar radiculopathy patients. If you need reliable physical therapy services in Las Vegas, contact Suarez Physical Therapy. Contact us at 702-368-6778 to speak to one of our therapists.