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  • Writer's pictureLoren Wooldridge

Beyond the Mechanical Pinch, Understanding Lumbar Radiculopathy

Dr. Loren, Physical Therapist at The Health Lab
Dr. Loren talking with a patient

Are you or someone you know experiencing lower back pain that radiates down the leg? This could be a sign of lumbar radiculopathy, a condition where the low nerves in the lower back are irritated. While the conventional wisdom often points to mechanical issues such as the nerve being pinched from a bulged disc, emerging theories suggests that chemical irritation might play a more significant role than previously thought.

Imagine this: You're feeling intense pain shooting down your leg, making simple movements excruciating. Traditional thinking might lead you to believe that there's a structural problem, like a herniated disc or bone spur. However, recent insights into lumbar radiculopathy challenge this notion, highlighting the importance of chemical irritation in causing and exacerbating symptoms.

One compelling example of this is the effectiveness of steroid packs in alleviating symptoms associated with lumbar radiculopathy. Steroids work by reducing inflammation, which is often the result of chemical irritation of the nerve roots. This reduction in inflammation can significantly decrease pain and improve mobility, even without directly addressing any mechanical compression. In other words, if the steroids make your symptoms better, the disc bulge would still be the same if an MRI was taken.

Furthermore, intravenous (IV) therapy, which delivers medications and fluids directly into the bloodstream, can also provide relief from lumbar radiculopathy symptoms. Again, the key here is addressing the chemical aspect of the condition rather than solely focusing on mechanical compression. IV therapy acts to systemically dilute the whole body and in effect reducing the chemical irritants concentration. This volume change has nothing to due with changing the mechanical structure of the spine within the 30 minutes to administer but can provide effective short term relief from pain and discomfort due to the reduction in chemical concentration.

Physical Therapy Exercise
Dr. Loren working with a patient

Another commonly used intervention is movement, with a skilled Physical Therapist. Here at The Health Lab, we look to find patterns that improve the nerve irritability. If symptoms are reducing in the leg with a specific movement, we like to believe we have found the positive fluid pump in order to reduce the chemical concentration.  If a movement makes the leg symptoms worse, this is concentrating the chemical inflammation around the nerve. With hands on care during a visit, we can improve movement which makes the positive pump bigger which then increases the flushing of the chemical irritant. Once we find these patterns and improve motion, it’s the clients job to keep the pump working throughout the day with continual positive movement. We have had great success with this belief and treatment approach for lumbar radiculopathy.

So, what does this mean for individuals dealing with lumbar radiculopathy? It's essential to recognize that while mechanical factors like herniated discs or bone spurs may contribute to the condition, addressing the chemical aspect of nerve root irritation is equally if not important, as we have had great success with this approach. This broader perspective opens up a range of treatment options beyond traditional approaches focused solely on mechanical compression. It also increases our awareness of how diet, sleep, and stress can all have an impact on the chemical concentration of our nervous system.

For those experiencing symptoms of lumbar radiculopathy, seeking a comprehensive evaluation that considers the chemical irritability of a system in relationship to motion is key to success. Simply focusing on the MRI alone has detrimental effective to both short term and long term success. Working with a provider who has the time to find the little details of the positive pump is invaluable. Building the positive pump over time and returning to your desired life is another keep strategy of quality care. No one with this issue benefits from the same protocol of treatment which is exactly what The Health Lab was built for. If you haven’t found the positive pump on your own or even with another provider, maybe it’s time to consider The Health Lab.

Tanya Liscio, Loren Wooldridge, Sarah Kaderka
The Providers of The Health Lab


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