The L4 vertebra is the second-lowest segment of the lumbar region and one of the most common sites of spinal conditions that lead to chronic lower back pain. The reason the L4 is vulnerable to conditions such as a herniated disc is because the five lumbar vertebrae support most of the weight of the upper body and are flexible enough to allow for a wide range of motion. This load-bearing function and flexibility exacerbate the normal wear and tear in the spine we all experience as we age, which can lead to debilitating lower back pain and other symptoms.
At the L4 level, the series of nerves known as the lumbar plexus ends and the sacral plexus begins. Among the nerves that originate at or are associated with the L4 level is the sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in the body and the source of a series of painful symptoms known as sciatica. Other nerves associated with the L4 vertebra are the quadratus femoris, the superior gluteal, the obturator and the femoral. These nerves innervate pelvic and hip muscles, which are sites that can experience symptoms when nerve compression is present at the L4 level of the lumbar vertebrae.
Spinal conditions affecting the L4
Most lower back pain can be attributed to a muscle strain or ligament sprain, but there are several potential serious spinal conditions that commonly affect the intervertebral disc between L4 and L5. These include herniated disc, bulging disc, spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease and osteoarthritis. When occurring in the L4 area, these conditions can cause acute or chronic lower back pain, tingling, numbness or muscle weakness in the inner part of the lower leg.
Treatment for L4 conditions
Pain medication, physical therapy and other conservative treatments usually can be used to manage symptoms associated with nerve compression. However, when chronic lower back pain persists after weeks or months of conservative therapy, a physician might suggest surgery as an option. Rather than settle for traditional open back surgery, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn how one of our minimally invasive, outpatient procedures can help you find relief from back pain.