A lumbar vertebra generally has a taller and bulkier vertebral body compared to the thoracic (middle back) and cervical (neck) vertebrae. This extra size is important, because the five lumbar vertebrae support most of the weight of the upper body. In addition, the lumbar spine’s relative flexibility allows for a broad range of motion, including bending, twisting and flexion.
Years of repetitive motion, coupled with the stress of supporting so much weight, subjects the typical lumbar vertebra to far greater risk of developing potential debilitating spinal conditions such as osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis and degenerative disc disease. Degeneration in this area of the spine can trigger the growth of bone spurs, which are the body’s defense mechanism against the loss of spinal stability. Also, the intervertebral disc between the L4 and L5 vertebrae is particularly vulnerable to stress and herniated or bulging discs.
Naming a Lumbar Vertebra
The lumbar vertebrae begin where the thoracic vertebrae end. Just as the 12 thoracic (T1-T12) and seven cervical vertebrae (C1-C7) are named by letter and number, the lumbar vertebrae are denoted as follows:
- L1 – connected to the T12; located near the stomach’s pylorus
- L2 – the site where the spinal cord ends and the cauda equina begins to branch off
- L3 – the first of the most vulnerable lumbar vertebra, where much of the body’s weight is born
- L4 – along with the L5, the most common site of lumbar problems
- L5 – associated with the origin of the sciatic nerve, as well as L4-L5 disc compression
- L6 – rarely occurring, but subject to the same type of conditions as the L5 in most people
Treating Lumbar Conditions
If you suspect a lumbar vertebra is subject to a potentially debilitating lower back condition, schedule a visit with your doctor right away to attain a diagnosis. Most of the time, symptoms such as pain, tingling, numbness, or muscle weakness can be managed through pain medication, physical therapy or other conservative treatment. If surgery becomes an option, contact Laser Spine Institute (LSI) to learn how a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure performed using advanced endoscopic techniques can help you rediscover a life without pain.