Things to Avoid With Lumbar Radiculopathy

If you’re suffering from persistent lower back pain, muscle spasms, numbness, tingling, or weakness in the lower extremities, you may suffer from lumbar radiculopathy. This condition develops when a nerve in the lumbar spine becomes impinged, and it’s particularly common among older adults. With age, the spinal discs tend to compress, creating a high risk of nerve impingement. 

To prevent further damage and encourage healing with lumbar radiculopathy, it’s important to avoid certain activities. In this article, we’ll explore the things to avoid with this spinal condition for relief from lower back pain. 

What Aggravates Lumbar Radiculopathy?

The following activities and habits can aggravate lumbar radiculopathy:

  • Prolonged sitting
  • Coughing and sneezing, which place sudden impact on the spine
  • Twisting the spine (i.e. golf, gymnastics, some yoga poses) 
  • High-impact exercise, including:
    • Running or jogging
    • Weightlifting
    • Contact sports (i.e. football, hockey, boxing) 

The activities listed above place added stress on the spinal nerves, leading to pain flare-ups and neurological symptoms. Your physician or physical therapist can advise you on other activities to avoid with lumbar radiculopathy. 

Can I Exercise With Lumbar Radiculopathy?

Yes, you can exercise with lumbar radiculopathy. But, it’s important to avoid activities that can strain the lumbar spine, as listed above. 

The best forms of exercise for lumbar radiculopathy include:

  • Walking
  • Swimming and water aerobics
  • Gentle stretching
  • Core strengthening exercises

Gentle, low-impact exercise is an important component of the healing process for lumbar radiculopathy. Prolonged periods of sitting or bed rest can worsen the condition by increasing muscle tension and stiffness. Remaining active will help maintain the spine’s range of motion while increasing circulation to the injured tissue. 

A physical therapist can provide exercises that help relieve your symptoms without exacerbating the nerve impingement. As a general rule of thumb, if you experience pain while exercising, stop and consult your PT. 

How Long Does Lumbar Radiculopathy Take To Heal?

Lumbar radiculopathy typically takes between six weeks and three months to heal, with proper treatment. Healing time can vary depending on the severity of the condition and the patient’s adherence to the treatment plan. 

How to Speed Up Lumbar Radiculopathy Healing

You can help speed up the healing process for lumbar radiculopathy by:

  • Seeing a physical therapist for targeted exercises and stretches
  • Avoiding activities and movements that could strain the spine, including excessive twisting and lifting of heavy objects
  • Refraining from smoking, which dampens circulation throughout the body
  • Eating a nutrient-rich diet
  • Reaching and maintaining a healthy diet

Can Lumbar Radiculopathy Lead To Paralysis?

Lumbar radiculopathy can lead to paralysis in very severe cases. Paralysis generally only occurs if radiculopathy is left untreated for a prolonged period of time. The sooner you receive treatment for this condition, the lower your risk of lasting nerve damage. 

If you experience the following symptoms with lumbar radiculopathy, seek emergency medical care:

  • Urinary or fecal incontinence (loss of bladder or bowel control)
  • Saddle anesthesia (numbness in the buttocks, perineum, and inner thighs)
  • Urinary retention (experiencing a full bladder with no urge to urinate)
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Weakness or paralysis of the lower extremities

The symptoms listed above are warning signs of cauda equina syndrome, a neurological disorder that can cause permanent nerve damage. Cauda equina syndrome is a possible complication of severe lumbar radiculopathy. 

What Is the Common Age for Lumbar Radiculopathy?

The common age for lumbar radiculopathy is 30 to 50. This condition most often occurs in mid-life due to age-related changes to the spine and/or overuse. 

Lumbar radiculopathy is more common in individuals who:

  • Repeatedly lift heavy objects, such as furniture movers and stock clerks
  • Have occupations that involve long periods of driving, such as cab or truck drivers
  • Have sedentary occupations
  • Have a chronic cough
  • Have had multiple pregnancies
  • Have a history of back pain
  • Are obese
  • Are smokers 
  • Regularly partake in weight-bearing or high-impact sports

Surgery for Lumbar Radiculopathy

Surgery for lumbar radiculopathy may be recommended if the patient has undergone several months of conservative treatment with no improvement. Possible procedures for this condition include lumbar microdiscectomy or lumbar laminectomy, often with spinal fusion. 

  • Microdiscectomy involves surgically removing some or all of a herniated spinal disc to resolve the compression of a spinal nerve. It’s widely performed for cases of radiculopathy that stem from spinal disc damage. 
  • Laminectomy involves surgically removing some or all of the lamina, a thin piece of bone at the back of the vertebra that protects the spinal cord. It’s one of the most common spinal decompression procedures. 

Spinal fusion is often performed after spinal decompression procedures, including discectomy and laminectomy, to stabilize the spine. It involves placing bone graft material between the affected vertebrae to gradually fuse them into one structure. This expunges all motion at the fused segment. 

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Patients who must undergo surgery for lumbar radiculopathy can consider non-fusion implants like the TOPS System. This innovative device creates a controlled range of motion in the spine to restore stability without eliminating the motion of the vertebrae.  

Can Radiculopathy Be Cured Without Surgery?

Radiculopathy can be cured without surgery in many cases. Non-surgical treatments like physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, acupuncture, massage therapy, and lifestyle adjustments are often effective at reducing lumbar nerve compression. 

  • Physical therapy for radiculopathy involves increasing core and back muscle strength. Bolstering these muscle groups can reduce the strain on the spine with everyday activities. 
  • Anti-inflammatory and pain medications, either over-the-counter or prescription, can help with pain management for radiculopathy patients. However, medications aren’t considered a long-term solution for lumbar nerve impingement. 
  • Acupuncture and massage therapy are alternative treatments that can stimulate the body’s natural healing response and naturally reduce inflammation. Many physical therapists offer these treatments in addition to their PT services. 
  • Lifestyle adjustments like reaching a healthy weight, quitting smoking, exercising regularly, and avoiding prolonged periods of sitting can help you overcome radiculopathy pain. 

If you’re experiencing symptoms of lumbar radiculopathy, schedule an appointment with your physician for a formal diagnosis. Early intervention can help you achieve relief faster and avoid spinal surgery.