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What is lumbar myelopathy?

Lumbar myelopathy refers to any condition of the spinal cord in the lumbar portion of the spine. The lumbar spine is the lower back. In this section, we will exclusively talk about myelopathy due to a lumbar intervertebral disc disorder. However, some other examples of myelopathy may include:

  • Carcinomatous myelopathy (cancer)
  • Compressive myelopathy (masses, haemotomas, or stenosis)
  • Radiation myelopathy (x-rays and radiation)

It should be noted that the spinal cord ends very high in the lumbar spine, in most cases in the middle of the first lumbar vertebra (L1) or at the L1-2 intervertebral disc. Therefore, if a disc herniation or protrusion is going to cause lumbar myelopathy by compressing the spinal cord, it can only typically happen at the L1-L2 intervertebral disc. This is rare, however for completeness we have included here. Herniations that occur at L2-L3 through to L5-S1 can cause radiculopathy (one nerve root compressed) or cauda equina syndrome (many nerve roots compressed).

Lumbar Myelopathy Symptoms

Lumbar myelopathy from intervertebral compression behaves much like a low thoracic disc causing myelopathy. Back pain can be experienced, but in many cases, there is no low back pain. If it does it is likely to occur at the level of the disc problem. Compression of the spinal cord can affect muscle strength, sensation and the function of the bowel and bladder.


Lumbar myelopathy is treated and managed by medical doctors such as neurologists and neurosurgeons.