The lumbar nerve roots, known medically as the L1-L5 nerve roots, refer to the sites where nerves exit the spinal cord and branch throughout the lower back and the rest of the lower body. These nerve fibers help facilitate the transfer of information between the lower torso, legs and feet all the way up to the brain and back again with unbelievable speed. However, these nerve roots are also particularly susceptible to wear and tear due to the flexibility and weight burden of the lower back.
In many ways, the lumbar spine is unlike any other segment of the spine. For one, lower back problems are far more prevalent than any other spine problems because of the nature of the lumbar spine. In order to provide the flexion, extension and pivoting ability we require – and also to keep our bodies from buckling in half – the lumbar spine has to be extremely strong and mobile. This wide range of function and motion also commonly leads to the compression of the L1-L5 nerve roots because the soft, supporting discs in between the lumbar vertebrae degenerate, spinal joints break down, osteoarthritis creeps in and spinal canals narrow. These conditions are all common causes of nerve root pinching and pain in the spine.
The lumbar spine is also different from the higher segments of the spine because the spinal cord only extends to the end of the thoracic spine in the middle back; from there it “horse tails” into the lumbar, sacral and coccygeal spine segments. It is because of this design that paraplegia as a result of a herniated disc or another vertebral disorder in the lower back is increasingly unlikely. Instead, common symptoms of compressed lumbar nerve roots include:
- Chronic lower back pain at the site of the compression
- Pain that radiates along a nerve
- Muscle weakness in the thighs, knees and calves
- Numbness and tingling in the legs, feet and toes
- Other forms of sciatica
- Incontinence or loss of bladder control in emergency cases, which requires immediate medical treatment
Management of most of these symptoms can usually be handled conservatively with a combination of anti-inflammatory medications, exercise and strength training, heat or ice therapy and similar options. However, in some instances, patients do not sufficiently respond to conservative treatment, and lower back surgery becomes an option. If this is your prognosis, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about minimally invasive, outpatient spine procedures as an alternative to traditional open back surgery. To hear more about compression of L1-L5 nerve roots, and for a review of your MRI or CT scan, contact Laser Spine Institute today.