Official reprint from UpToDate®
www.uptodate.com ©2015 UpToDate®

Acute lumbosacral radiculopathy: Prognosis and treatment

Kerry Levin, MD
Philip S Hsu, MD
Carmel Armon, MD, MHS
Section Editor
Jeremy M Shefner, MD, PhD
Deputy Editor
John F Dashe, MD, PhD


Lumbosacral radiculopathy is a condition in which a disease process affects the function of one or more lumbosacral nerve roots. The most common cause is structural (ie, disc herniation or degenerative spinal stenosis) leading to root compression.

This topic will review the prognosis and treatment of lumbosacral radiculopathy, focusing on the acute period (up to four weeks). Other clinical aspects of lumbosacral radiculopathy and the management of lumbar spinal stenosis are discussed separately. (See "Lumbosacral radiculopathy: Pathophysiology, clinical features, and diagnosis" and "Lumbar spinal stenosis: Treatment and prognosis".)

The management of subacute and chronic low back pain is reviewed elsewhere. (See "Subacute and chronic low back pain: Nonsurgical interventional treatment" and "Subacute and chronic low back pain: Pharmacologic and noninterventional treatment" and "Subacute and chronic low back pain: Surgical treatment".)


While acute lumbosacral radiculopathy is often extremely painful, the likelihood of spontaneous improvement is thought to be high when the cause is disc herniation or lumbar spinal stenosis due to degenerative arthritis. However, natural history data for lumbosacral radiculopathy are limited.

Some insight can be gained from placebo arms of randomized trials. In this regard, a trial of 208 patients with acute L5 and/or S1 radiculopathy found no significant difference in outcome for those assigned to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory treatment or to placebo at four weeks, and most patients had a satisfactory recovery [1]. At three months, approximately 30 percent of patients in both groups still had complaints of back pain.


Subscribers log in here

To continue reading this article, you must log in with your personal, hospital, or group practice subscription. For more information or to purchase a personal subscription, click below on the option that best describes you:
Literature review current through: Jun 2015. | This topic last updated: Apr 15, 2015.
The content on the UpToDate website is not intended nor recommended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your own physician or other qualified health care professional regarding any medical questions or conditions. The use of this website is governed by the UpToDate Terms of Use ©2015 UpToDate, Inc.
  1. Weber H, Holme I, Amlie E. The natural course of acute sciatica with nerve root symptoms in a double-blind placebo-controlled trial evaluating the effect of piroxicam. Spine (Phila Pa 1976) 1993; 18:1433.
  2. Dreiser RL, Le Parc JM, Vélicitat P, Lleu PL. Oral meloxicam is effective in acute sciatica: two randomised, double-blind trials versus placebo or diclofenac. Inflamm Res 2001; 50 Suppl 1:S17.
  3. Goldie I. A clinical trial with indomethacin (indomee(R)) in low back pain and sciatica. Acta Orthop Scand 1968; 39:117.
  4. Roelofs PD, Deyo RA, Koes BW, et al. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for low back pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2008; :CD000396.
  5. Herrmann WA, Geertsen MS. Efficacy and safety of lornoxicam compared with placebo and diclofenac in acute sciatica/lumbo-sciatica: an analysis from a randomised, double-blind, multicentre, parallel-group study. Int J Clin Pract 2009; 63:1613.
  6. Pinto RZ, Maher CG, Ferreira ML, et al. Drugs for relief of pain in patients with sciatica: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ 2012; 344:e497.
  7. Vroomen PC, de Krom MC, Wilmink JT, et al. Lack of effectiveness of bed rest for sciatica. N Engl J Med 1999; 340:418.
  8. Hofstee DJ, Gijtenbeek JM, Hoogland PH, et al. Westeinde sciatica trial: randomized controlled study of bed rest and physiotherapy for acute sciatica. J Neurosurg 2002; 96:45.
  9. Hagen KB, Hilde G, Jamtvedt G, Winnem M. Bed rest for acute low-back pain and sciatica. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2004; :CD001254.
  10. Chou R, Huffman LH, American Pain Society, American College of Physicians. Medications for acute and chronic low back pain: a review of the evidence for an American Pain Society/American College of Physicians clinical practice guideline. Ann Intern Med 2007; 147:505.
  11. Finckh A, Zufferey P, Schurch MA, et al. Short-term efficacy of intravenous pulse glucocorticoids in acute discogenic sciatica. A randomized controlled trial. Spine (Phila Pa 1976) 2006; 31:377.
  12. Haimovic IC, Beresford HR. Dexamethasone is not superior to placebo for treating lumbosacral radicular pain. Neurology 1986; 36:1593.
  13. Porsman O, Friis H. Prolapsed lumbar disc treated with intramuscularly administered dexamethasonephosphate. A prospectively planned, double-blind, controlled clinical trial in 52 patients. Scand J Rheumatol 1979; 8:142.
  14. Hedeboe J, Buhl M, Ramsing P. Effects of using dexamethasone and placebo in the treatment of prolapsed lumbar disc. Acta Neurol Scand 1982; 65:6.
  15. Friedman BW, Esses D, Solorzano C, et al. A randomized placebo-controlled trial of single-dose IM corticosteroid for radicular low back pain. Spine (Phila Pa 1976) 2008; 33:E624.
  16. Holve RL, Barkan H. Oral steroids in initial treatment of acute sciatica. J Am Board Fam Med 2008; 21:469.
  17. Pinto RZ, Maher CG, Ferreira ML, et al. Epidural corticosteroid injections in the management of sciatica: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med 2012; 157:865.
  18. Chou R, Loeser JD, Owens DK, et al. Interventional therapies, surgery, and interdisciplinary rehabilitation for low back pain: an evidence-based clinical practice guideline from the American Pain Society. Spine (Phila Pa 1976) 2009; 34:1066.