What Is A Lumbar Herniated Disc?

The spine consists of multiple bones called vertebrae that protect the spinal cord. Between each vertebra lies discs that help with shock absorption and flexibility. A herniated lumbar disc is also known as a slipped or ruptured disc in the lower back. The slipped disc occurs when the soft inner core of a disc bulges through the outer shell, compressing nearby nerves. A lumbar herniated disc creates several unpleasant symptoms that worsen over time. Lower back pain (LBP) is a common condition impacting millions of American adults, but herniated discs have specific symptoms that require medical intervention.


Symptoms of a herniated disc

There are specific symptoms that can signal a lumbar herniated disc. In many cases, the pain radiates down 1 or both legs, a condition called sciatica. With sciatica, the herniated disc disrupts the sciatic nerve that runs down the leg. Some individuals experience numbness, tingling, or weakness along the same path of leg pain. These symptoms make walking, standing, and bending over difficult. Muscle weakness in the lower back and legs can also occur, making physical activities like sports challenging. The pain suddenly subsides when lying down as pressure is relieved from the nerves. In severe cases, loss of bladder or bowel control can occur. Symptoms can vary in severity by individual.

Conservative treatment options

Only an orthopedic surgeon or other specialist can confirm a lumbar herniated disc through a series of tests. Most patients are started with conservative treatment methods. Resting and avoiding activities that trigger symptoms can help alleviate pain and inflammation. Physical therapy (PT) can strengthen the muscles around the spine, improve flexibility, and relieve pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can reduce inflammation and pain, while corticosteroid injections may also be recommended. Chiropractic care may help to realign the spine and reduce nerve pressure. In more severe cases, an epidural steroid injection or radiofrequency ablation (RFA) can temporarily relieve pain and inflammation.

When to see a doctor for surgery

If other treatments have failed, surgery can be considered. Most patients see a doctor to discuss surgery after months of conservative treatment without success. Surgery may also be considered if the herniated disc is particularly severe or if daily activities are being affected. A surgeon will recommend surgery only when there is a specific cause of pain that can be addressed through surgical intervention.

Your surgery options

There are a range of traditional and minimally invasive surgery (MIS) options available to treat low back pain. The procedure will depend on the surgeon’s skill, availability, and severity of the herniated disc. The goal is to remove the herniated disc material and relieve pressure on the affected nerve root. Standard surgical procedures for a lumbar herniated disc include discectomy and laminectomy. These procedures remove part or all of the disc material or bone obstructing the sciatic nerve. Spinal fusion is another effective procedure where 2 or more vertebrae fuse into a solid bone after removing the herniated disc. Minimally invasive techniques are quickly becoming the preferred surgical option due to fewer complications and a faster recovery.

Recovery after surgery

Managing pain, PT, and proper nutrition are crucial aspects of recovery after surgery for a lumbar herniated disc. Take pain medications as directed, report any new pain to the surgeon, and apply ice packs to the surgical site. Attend all physical therapy sessions and complete assigned exercises at home. Eat a well-balanced diet, stay hydrated, and avoid processed foods and sugary drinks. Follow up with a healthcare provider regularly to monitor progress. On average, recovery can take several weeks.

Don’t ignore LBP

Back pain is a common condition that can vary in severity. If the reason is a lumbar herniated disc, there will be specific symptoms. From chronic pain to numbness and sciatica, take these issues as a sign to visit a doctor immediately. With an accurate diagnosis, effective treatment is possible. However, if the pain persists and worsens, this is the best time to see a surgeon. Surgery is often a last resort but can provide significant pain relief and stability and allow a better quality of life.

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