The vertebral column, also called the backbone, is made up of 33 vertebrae that are separated by spongy discs. The spine is divided into 4 distinct areas from top to bottom:
The lumbar spine consists of 5 bony segments in the lower back area, which is where lumbar disk disease occurs.
Most disk herniations happen in the lower lumbar spine, especially between the fourth and fifth lumbar vertebrae and between the fifth lumbar vertebra and the first sacral vertebra (the L4-5 and L5-S1 levels).
Lumbar disk disease is caused by a change in the structure of the normal disk. Most of the time, disk disease happens as a result of aging and the normal degeneration that occurs within the disk. Occasionally, severe injury can cause a normal disk to herniate. Injury may also cause an already herniated disk to worsen.
Although age is the most common risk, physical inactivity can cause weak back and abdominal muscles, which may not support the spine properly. Back injuries also increase when people who are normally physical inactive participate in overly strenuous activities. Jobs that require heavy lifting and twisting of the spine can also cause back injuries.
The symptoms of lumbar disk disease vary depending on where the disk has herniated, and what nerve root it is pushing on. The following are the most common symptoms of lumbar disk disease. However, each person may experience different symptoms. Symptoms may include:
The symptoms of lumbar disc disease may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always see your health care provider for a diagnosis.
In addition to a complete medical history and physical exam, you may have one or more of the following tests:
Specific treatment for lumbar disk disease will be determined by your health care provider based on:
Typically, conservative therapy is the first line of treatment to manage lumbar disk disease. This may include a combination of the following:
If these conservative measures fail, you may need surgery to remove the herniated disc. Surgery is done under general anesthesia. Your surgeon will make an incision in your lower back over the area where the disc is herniated. Some bone from the back of the spine may be removed to gain access to the area where the disc is located. Your surgeon will remove the herniated part of the disc and any extra loose pieces from the disc space.
After surgery, you may be restricted from activity for several weeks while you heal to prevent another disc herniation. Your surgeon will discuss any restrictions with you.
Lumbar disk disease can cause back and leg pain that interferes with daily activities. It can lead to leg weakness or numbness and difficulty with bowel and bladder control.
Maintaining a healthy weight, participating in regular exercises, and using good posture can minimize your risk for lumbar disk disease.
Conservative therapy requires patience; but sticking with your treatment plan can reduce back pain and minimize the chance of worsening pain or damage to the disk. Conservative measures and surgery can both take time to be effective.
Notify your health care provider if your pain increases or if you begin having difficulty with bowel or bladder control.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
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