Lumbar spine — overview

The lumbar spine, or lower spine, usually consists of five large vertebrae in the lower back — although it is possible to have six lumbar vertebrae. These vertebrae are more flexible than the 12 thoracic vertebrae in the middle spine. This flexibility allows for bending and rotation in the lower back.

The lumbar spine also supports a major portion of the body’s weight. This, coupled with the region’s relative flexibility, makes the lumbar region more susceptible to injury and degeneration brought on by natural wear and tear. The parts of the spine that allow for movement — the joints and discs — can cause spinal narrowing and nerve compression that results in painful symptoms that can severely affect your life.

If lower back pain and related symptoms are affecting your life, making it difficult to do your job, work around the house or spend time with family, learning more about lumbar spine conditions and treatment options is important. This information can help you and your primary care doctor better work together to get the care you need for a return to a healthy, active lifestyle.

Lumbar spine conditions

Conditions caused by aging or injury within the lumbar spine that can lead to chronic pain include:

  • Spinal stenosis. Stenosis is narrowing of the spinal canal or nerve-root exits that can be caused by different conditions.
  • Herniated disc. Disc herniation occurs when a tear develops in the tough outer layer of a spinal disc and the gel-like inner material is pushed out, potentially interfering with a nerve.
  • Bulging disc. This relatively common condition occurs when pressure from the surrounding vertebrae cause a disc to bulge out beyond its normal perimeter in the spine.
  • Degenerative disc disease. This describes the age-related breakdown of the spinal discs which can lead to bulging and herniated discs as well as other disc-related problems.
  • Bone spur. Also called an osteophyte, a bone spur usually develops as a result of bone-on-bone contact to provide stability.

Sciatica is another lower back issue that causes many people extreme discomfort. Sciatica involves the sciatic nerve which is the longest nerve in the body and originates from the lumbar spine and the sacrum. This large nerve sends sensory impulses to the back of the legs and feet, which is why leg pain is a common symptom of sciatica. This pain usually occurs because a nerve root in the lumbar region has become compressed or irritated due to of a traumatic injury or degenerative condition.

Doctor-prescribed conservative treatment, such as exercise, physical therapy or pain medicine, can often be used to manage the lower back pain caused by these and other spinal conditions. Surgery is usually considered if weeks or months of conservative treatment options do not bring the relief necessary to resume normal activities.

Laser Spine Institute

If you are considering surgery as an option for your lumbar spine condition, reach out to Laser Spine Institute as an alternative to traditional open back surgery. Our minimally invasive outpatient spine surgery treats a range of spine conditions with a muscle-sparing, less than 1-inch incision that leads to a shorter recovery time^ and less risk of complication compared to traditional open spine surgery.

Contact Laser Spine Institute for your no-cost MRI review* to see if you may be a potential candidate for minimally invasive spine surgery with us.