Lumbar nerve roots exist in pairs between the five vertebrae in the lumbar spine segment (L1-L5 vertebrae) in the lower back. As the location where nerves branch off the spinal cord, nerve roots are responsible for facilitating the transfer of information between the brain (by way of the spinal cord) and the body along various nerve endings. Because the lumbar spine in the lower back is inordinately at risk of strain and damage, compression of the lumbar nerve roots is more common than at any other segment of the spine. And it is this nerve compression which leads to a number of potential symptoms, including common lower back pain.
Originating in the brain, the spinal cord extends through the cervical (neck) and thoracic (middle back) regions, ending at the top of the lumbar segment. At this point, the spinal cord branches off (or “horse tails”) into a series of nerve roots in the lumbar, sacral, and coccygeal spine segments. In the lower back, these lumbar nerve roots exit through spaces in the vertebrae, known as the foramina, and extend into the lower body. The good news is that because the spinal cord ends before it gets to the lower back, a herniated disc in the lumbar spine isn’t likely to cause paraplegia. Instead, the most common symptom of nerve root compression in the lower back is pain, with chronic pain and sciatica being the most prevalent conditions experienced.
The lumbar spine is unique because it needs to be flexible, pivot on an axis, allow for extension and also support most of the body’s weight. This combination of flexion and stress makes the lumbar spine far more prone to deterioration than any other spinal segment (with the cervical spine in the neck coming in a distant second). As a result, soft discs in between the vertebrae swell and become herniated, spinal canals narrow, facet joints weaken, and arthritis creeps in, all of which are common causes of compression of any of the five lumbar nerve roots, known also as the L1-L5 nerve roots.
Common symptoms of compression of the lumbar nerve roots may include:
- Chronic, local back pain at the site of the compression
- Radiating pain traveling along a nerve
- Unexplained muscle weakness
- Numbness and tingling extending to the toes
- Incontinence in emergency cases
- Other forms of sciatica
Treatment of these conditions can usually be managed, with the help of a physician, through a combination of low-impact exercises, stretching, anti-inflammatory medication and heat therapy. In the event that these conservative treatments are insufficient, other options, including surgery, may be considered. If this is your situation, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about minimally invasive, outpatient endoscopic spine procedures to decompress lumbar nerve roots. Our gentle alternative to open back surgery is an excellent way to help alleviate back pain without the recovery, rehabilitation and expense of more traditional surgeries. Call us today to schedule a consultation and for a free review of your CT scan or MRI.