Degenerative lumbar spine problems, by definition, originate in the lower back. The lumbar (or lower) region of the spine is used for so many movements, like twisting, bending, lifting and arching, that it is easy to see how this area could degenerate, or break down, after years of gravity and motion.
Let’s look at the anatomy of the lumbar spine, since understanding the mechanics of your condition is the first step to relieving the pain of a degenerative lumbar spine disorder. The lower back is made up of five vertebrae, referred to as L1 to L5 (although some people have four or six lumbar vertebrae). These are the largest vertebrae in the spine and are also forced to support the most weight, since your lumbar region is where the two halves of your body come together. The lumbar region also houses the sciatic nerve, which is the single largest nerve in the body. The sciatic nerve runs from the lower back, through the buttocks and into each leg to the bottom of the foot. Like other vertebrae in your spine, the lumbar vertebrae are separated by protective intervertebral discs, which help with padding, shock absorption and spinal flexibility.
As we age, intervertebral discs begin to break down, which can lead to a degenerative lumbar spine condition. The joints between the vertebrae – called facet joints – also degenerate and lose their smooth cartilage covering. This degenerative spine condition is called osteoarthritis.
Weakened discs and worn facet joints can cause any of the following to occur:
- Herniated disc – a disc breaks open and extrudes its inner fluid (nucleus pulposus) into the spinal canal
- Bulging disc – a disc weakens and swells beyond its normal perimeter, thereby impinging on the spinal canal
- Bone spurs – often your body’s response to excess friction on arthritic facet joints, bone spurs are extra growths of smooth bone on your vertebrae, and these growths can impinge on spinal nerves
All of the above conditions can involve nerve compression. In other words, bone or disc material can press on spinal nerves, causing pain, numbness, tingling and muscle weakness.
If your physician has diagnosed you with a degenerative lumbar spine or a degenerative cervical spine (in the neck), the surgeons at Laser Spine Institute may be able to help. Our highly successful procedures are minimally invasive and are performed on an outpatient basis. To learn more, contact Laser Spine Institute for a review of your MRI or CT scan.