The vertebral column, or backbone, is made up of 33 vertebrae that are separated by spongy disks. The spine is divided into 4 areas:
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 break down that occurs within the disk. Sometimes, 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 not physically active 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. These are the most common symptoms of lumbar disk disease:
The symptoms of lumbar disc disease may look like other conditions or medical problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
In addition to a complete medical history and physical exam, you may have one or more of the following tests:
If these 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 disc. 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 trouble with bowel and bladder control.
Maintaining a healthy weight, participating in regular exercise, and using good posture can lessen 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.
Call your healthcare provider if your pain increases or if you start having trouble with bowel or bladder control.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider: