The discs located in the lumbar (lower) spine — between vertebrae numbered L1-5 — are very prone to herniation and other conditions. This is because the lower back carries most of your body’s weight and has to bend and flex for normal activities like walking, lifting, twisting and stretching. According to the National Institutes of Health, Americans spend $50 billion a year to combat lower back pain. It is also the most common cause of disability on the job. If you’re in this group and are eager to get back to your life, whether for work or other activities you enjoy, learning about the causes of your pain is an important step in finding treatment for lasting relief.
Overview and common conditions
The lumbar spine consists of five large vertebrae, labeled L1-L5 top to bottom. These vertebrae are separated by spongy discs that basically act as shock absorbers to allow for movement. As we age, the L1-5 discs break down and become less able to support the lower back. If a displaced disc interferes with any of the nerves that are tightly packed into our spine, painful symptoms can result. A common cause of lower back pain is a herniated disc — a tear in the fibrous outer wall of a disc that allows material from the center to leak into the spinal column and potentially compress a nerve.
In addition to a lumbar herniated disc, the L1-5 discs can be affected by the following spinal conditions:
- Bulging disc — when the outer wall protrudes into the spinal canal but doesn’t rupture
- Degenerative disc disease — age-related breakdown of disc material
- Sciatica — pinching of the sciatic nerve
- Spinal stenosis — narrowing of the spinal canal
- Foraminal stenosis — a narrowing of the space where nerve roots exit the spinal column
- Osteoporosis — loss of bone density over time, causing brittleness and weakening
- Osteoarthritis — deterioration of joints over time
- Spondylolisthesis — slippage of vertebrae
- Spinal irregularities or injury — compression fractures, congenital conditions, etc.
L1-5 disc treatments
The symptoms of most spinal conditions associated with the L1-5 discs can be managed nonsurgically. A course of conservative treatment may include exercise, physical therapy, pain medications, rest or massage — always work with your primary care doctor when seeking treatment. Sometimes, chronic lower back pain persists despite weeks or months of conservative methods, and a physician may suggest surgery as an option.
Laser Spine Institute offers a minimally invasive spine surgery, an alternative to traditional open back disc surgery that offers shorter recovery times^ and lower risk of infection. If you are a candidate for a fusion surgery, we even offer minimally invasive stabilizations that are safer and effective than their traditional open spinal surgery counterparts. Contact our Care Team to learn how our advanced, outpatient procedures can help you find relief from neck and back pain, and to receive a review of your MRI or CT scan.