A herniated disc, sometimes referred to as a ‘slipped’ or ‘bulging’ disc, is one of the most common conditions affecting the spinal area. A lumbar disc herniation is a common cause of lower back and leg pain, as it occurs in the lower or lumbar region of the spine.
The spinal discs act as a means of compression and provide cushioning between the vertebrae (bones) of the spine. They are often thought of as ‘shock absorbers’ for the spine. The disc is vital to the structure of the spine, as it provides protection to both the spinal cord and any surrounding nerves. In addition, the disc is important to the spine’s flexibility and motion.
What is a Herniated Disc?
When a disc becomes herniated, a portion of that disc moves into the spinal canal. When this occurs, it causes unwanted to compression of both the spinal cord and its surrounding nerves – causing severe pain and discomfort.
There are a number of risk factors that can lead to a herniated disc in the lumbar spine. These include:
- Age – As we age, our discs begin to dry out, causing them to become weak and lose their resilience. As this happens, and the discs degenerate, they become less functional and can no longer absorb the shock they once could.
- Lifestyle – Certain poor habits & choices we make can affect the health of our spinal discs. These include regular tobacco use or smoking, lack of exercise, and poor diet.
- Poor Posture – With the discs designed to absorb the shock our own body weight, poor posture and balance, can cause an uneven distribution of weight and cause the disc to degenerate faster than they normally would.
Causes of a Lumbar Disc Herniation
A herniation of the lumbar spine is a fairly common injury amongst adults in the US. Some causes include:
- Excess Weight – Added stain on the spinal disc and the spine as a whole.
- Injury or Trauma – Often from a hard fall, lifting heavy objects, or a collision.
- Genetics – Some individuals are predisposed to suffering from a herniated disc.
In some cases, a lumbar disc herniation may not exhibit any symptoms at all, however, in most cases pain and numbness are highly probable. Symptoms include:
- Moderate to severe pain the lower back, buttocks, thighs, & legs.
- Weakness in the legs.
- Muscle spasms in the lower body.
- Numbness & tingling.
How Does a Lumbar Herniation Occur?
A herniated disc can occur as a result of a sudden accident or develop over time. It occurs in 4 specific stages:
- Disc Degeneration – Aging or normal wear & tear will cause the discs to weaken over time.
- Prolapse – The disc will begin to bulge or protrude, as its position will change with a slight impingement into the spinal canal & nerves.
- Extrusion – The inner, gel-like area of the disc breaks the outer wall (annulus fibrosus) of the disc. It does stay within the disc, however.
- Sequestered Disc – The inner gel of the disc eventually fully breaks through the outer wall, and will protrude outside the disc.
Once your doctor has performed the necessary diagnostic measures, including X-Rays, CT scans, MRIs, and sometimes a Myelogram, they will be able to determine the severity of your issues. Depending on your specific disc herniation, non-surgical or surgical measures may be needed. Most patients will not require surgery, as that is reserved for only the most severe lumbar disc herniations, that do not respond to other treatment methods.
Non-Surgical Options Include:
- Physical Therapy
- Medication – Anti-inflammatory Drugs, Epidural Injections, Corticosteroids, and Pain Medications.
If other treatment options are ineffective, surgery may be necessary. Depending on the specific symptoms you have, there are different surgical options. These procedures are most often minimally-invasive – they do not require large incisions andcan be performed with special instruments.
- Minimally-Invasive Microdiscectomy – The removal of all or part of a spinal disc; in order to relieve any nerve pressure & compression, weakness or pain you might feel in the lower body as a result of the herniated disc.
- Laminotomy – In the event the herniated disc is covered by a piece of bone, and it needs to be removed.
For more information on disc herniations and other spinal issues, or to schedule a consultation, contact Dr. Arutyunyan today.