Anytime a spinal nerve root is compressed or damaged, the problem is known medically as radiculopathy. In the lumbar region, your lower back, radiculopathy usually affects the sciatic nerve, creating the collection of symptoms commonly known as sciatica.
It’s the most common reason patients contact spine surgeons like our doctors at Atlas Neurosurgery and Spine Center in Scottsdale, Arizona. Yet, surgery is rarely used to treat lumbar radiculopathy. It’s only a last resort when more conservative, nonsurgical treatments fail to produce relief.
In fact, with time and rest, many cases of sciatica resolve themselves, though you may be in discomfort or pain with mobility issues as you wait for your body to heal. Nonsurgical treatment can control the pain and speed your recovery.
5 nonsurgical treatments for lumbar radiculopathy
In the acute stages of sciatica, pain may be at its most intense. Initial care at home consists of ice packs used in 15-minute sessions every few hours for the first two days after symptoms begin. After 48 hours, alternating ice and heat may produce greater relief.
Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen and naproxen help mask pain and reduce inflammation. If the symptoms of lumbar radiculopathy persist or interfere with your daily life, the following nonsurgical treatments are commonly recommended.
1. Physical therapy
While you may be inactive for the first few days of symptoms, activities such as moderate walking and stretching contribute to your recovery. We have a network of physical therapists we work with that can help you learn specific stretches to build the back and core muscles that support your spine. They can also help you modify activities so they don’t cause greater pain.
2. Muscle relaxants
We may prescribe stronger medications, like muscle relaxers and anti-inflammatories, to further ease symptoms, such as muscle spasms, which frequently accompany herniated discs, the most common cause of lumbar radiculopathy and sciatica.
Corticosteroids are powerful anti-inflammatories that we can inject near the site of nerve compression to reduce swelling, a procedure called an epidural injection. You may take steroids orally as well, but due to side effects, we limit the duration of all steroid therapy to avoid negative effects on muscle tissue.
4. Alternative therapies
Chiropractic and acupuncture are both effective at relieving sciatica symptoms. The principle behind chiropractic care is to realign the body so it can heal itself more efficiently. As well as promoting healing, chiropractic adjustments often provide fast short-term relief from symptoms. Acupuncture stimulates pressure points in your body that stimulate nerves and blood flow, creating significant natural pain relief for many patients.
5. Selective nerve root block (SNRB)
Steroids may also be used with anesthetics in SNRBs, injections that interfere with the way nerves transmit pain signals to your brain. While SNRBs are usually only effective for a few months, that may be long enough for your body to heal.
If you need treatment for sciatica that goes beyond home care, visit the lumbar radiculopathy specialists at Atlas Neurosurgery and Spine Center. Book your consultation by calling the office or selecting the new patient link above today.