What it means to have a herniated disc in the lower back

A herniated disc occurs when one of the discs that act as cushioning in the spine becomes compressed and breaks, causing the disc’s inner gel to leak into the spinal canal and impact a nerve. Herniated discs can affect any part of the spine, though they typically occur in the lumbar (lower) region.

Causes of a herniated disc in the lumbar spine

Herniated discs in the lower back can be the result of a traumatic injury, though they are most commonly caused by the natural aging process. The lumbar spine is responsible for supporting much of the body’s weight while also allowing us to bend and move. As we get older and the body’s weight increases, our lower spine needs to support a heavier load. Eventually, the vertebrae become compressed under the added weight, and the discs in between the vertebrae flatten and stretch. Imagine pressing a piece of molding clay slowly between your hands; this is similar to the way the discs flatten between the vertebrae.

As the vertebrae continue to compress, the hard outer shell of the disc may break, allowing its jellylike interior to leak into the spinal canal, where it is likely to impact a nerve root. Herniated discs in the lowest part of the lumbar spine may impact the sciatic nerve, which begins at the bottom of the spine. When this happens, the collection of resulting symptoms are referred to as sciatica.

Herniated disc symptoms

The symptoms caused by a herniated disc in the lower back will depend on the impact on the surrounding nerves. If the herniated disc causes nerve compression, many uncomfortable symptoms can occur, including:

  • Localized pain in the lower back
  • Radiating pain in the buttock and leg on the impacted side
  • Numbness or tingling in the foot and toes on the impacted side

If you are experiencing symptoms related to a herniated disc, you should consult with your physician. He or she will likely perform a physical exam and order an MRI to diagnose the cause of your pain.

Treatment options for a lumbar herniated disc

Patients with mild herniated discs may find pain relief through conservative methods of treatment. Some of the most common conservative methods include:

  • Chiropractic care
  • Physical therapy
  • Light exercise and stretching
  • Pain medication
  • Hot and cold therapy

While these therapies work well for many people, not everyone finds lasting relief from conservative therapy. If you have tried conservative treatments for a significant amount of time and have not found any lasting pain relief, it may be time for you to consider surgical treatment for your lumbar herniated disc.

Surgical treatment options for herniated discs

For most patients, back surgery is considered a “last resort” treatment option. With the statistics and risks surrounding traditional open back surgery, we understand why patients are hesitant to move forward with this option. Fortunately, there are other surgical treatment options than traditional open back surgery. Laser Spine Institute offers a safer and effective alternative to traditional open back surgery with our minimally invasive spine surgery.^

We offer two types of surgery to treat a lumbar herniated disc: minimally invasive decompression surgery and minimally invasive stabilization surgery. The type of surgery performed will be determined by the severity of the condition. Milder instances of a lumbar herniated disc will most likely be treated with a discectomy procedure, which is one of our minimally invasive decompression surgeries. In this procedure, part of the herniated disc will be removed to decompress the nerve in the spinal canal. The surgery will be performed through a small incision.

If the herniated disc is more severe, you may be required to undergo a minimally invasive stabilization surgery. This type of surgery, also performed through a small incision, removes the entire herniated disc and inserts an implant in the empty disc space to stabilize the spine.

As you continue to research the treatment options available for your lumbar herniated disc, we encourage you to look at all of our resources and contact Laser Spine Institute with any questions. You can view our patient testimonials and FAQ section to learn more, or you can look at our streamlined patient experience so you know what to expect during your time with us. We believe that you should have the opportunity to learn about your spine condition and the treatment options available to you so you can make the best decision for your spine care needs. If you would like to find out whether you could be a candidate for our minimally invasive procedures, we would be happy to provide a free MRI review.*

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