The five vertebrae that comprise the lumbar spine (lower back), known as the L1–L5, are the strongest and largest group of vertebrae in the back. These vertebrae hold such strength because they are required to support most of the body’s weight, while still allowing the body to bend, pivot and move.
The vertebrae do not act alone in supporting the body; there are several other key components of the spine that allow the L1–L5 vertebrae to continually stabilize the weight and movements of the body. For example, in between each vertebra rests a cushionlike disc. This disc allows the vertebrae to have room between each other to move and flex without colliding. Additionally, facet joints on each vertebra allow the bones to hinge and move. All of these small pieces work together to promote a healthy lumbar spine.
Complications in the lumbar spine
When everything is working correctly, the S-shaped spine absorbs shock and allows the body to pivot on an axis, bend, extend and walk upright. And, it accomplishes all this under the extreme stress of supporting the body’s weight.
However, as time goes on and body weight increases, the spine is placed under additional pressure. The vertebrae are compressed downward under the added pounds, squeezing the discs in between them. As the discs are compressed, the inner disc fluid pushes against the tough outer layer in an attempt to expand outward under the pressure. The outer layer holds strong against the pressure and keeps the inner disc fluid from moving and reshaping the disc.
As the pressure builds up, however, the elasticity in the outer disc layer may diminish, causing the disc to bulge and collapse, sometimes even tearing open the outer layer, which results in a herniated disc. While this damage to a disc does not cause immediate pain, it does increase the risk of the damaged disc pressing against a nearby nerve root. If this happens, pain and limited mobility, as well as other symptoms, may occur.
Symptoms of nerve compression in the lumbar spine
Nerve compression in the lumbar spine can result in different symptoms, depending on the nerve root that is compressed. For example, compression of the sciatic nerve (the largest nerve root in the body) may yield different symptoms than compression of a smaller nerve root in the spinal canal.
Some symptoms of nerve compression in the L1–L5 lumbar spine include:
- Local, chronic pain
- Sciatic pain or other traveling pain
- Muscle weakness in the lower half of the back
- Numbness and tingling in the legs, feet and toes
- Pins-and-needles sensations in the extremities
Treatment for spine conditions in the L1–L5 vertebrae
Some of these degenerative disc conditions, such as herniated disc and bulging disc, can be treated over time with conservative therapies, such as physical therapy and lifestyle changes. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, your physician or a spine care specialist can help you find a nonsurgical treatment regimen to help relieve your pain and symptoms.
If you are still experiencing chronic pain and discomfort even after several months of treatment, you should consider a surgical option to recapture your quality of life. At Laser Spine Institute, we understand that spine surgery is never something that people are excited about considering. In fact, the thought of spine surgery is often scary and overwhelming. There are many potential risks that counteract the potential benefits of the procedure, and we encourage everyone to thoroughly research all aspects of the surgery before moving forward with the treatment option.
To make your decision less complicated, we offer minimally invasive surgery that is a safer and effective alternative to traditional open back surgery^. Our patients have reported a patient satisfaction score of 96 and patient recommendation score of 97 out of 100.^ Additionally, our patients experience lower risk and shorter recovery time^ than patients who undergo traditional open back surgery.
For patients with a damaged disc in the lumbar spine, our surgeons would likely perform a minimally invasive discectomy, which removes a small piece of the damaged spine that is pinching the nerve root. This releases pressure on the nerve root without altering the stability of the spine, and the entire procedure is performed through a small incision that does not disrupt the surrounding muscles.
In some cases, our surgeons may require that the entire damaged disc be removed, leaving an empty space in the spine. To regain stability in the spine, the surgeons will insert an artificial disc and bone grafts (if necessary) for added support, while still allowing the spine its full range of motion after surgery. This procedure is called a minimally invasive discectomy and stabilization, and is often used to treat patients with severely damaged discs in the lumbar spine.
To learn more about our minimally invasive procedures and how we can help treat your lumbar spine condition, please contact Laser Spine Institute today and request an MRI or CT scan review. We are here to help you Stand Tall* against back pain and get back to the activities you enjoy.