A herniated disk in the lower back is a condition that is sometimes called a bulging, slipped, or ruptured disk and is one of the most common causes of lower back pain. Spinal discs are located between vertebrae (spinal bones) and act as a shock absorber, allowing for movement in the spine. These discs have a soft, almost jelly-like interior and a harder shell.
When a spinal disc is placed under significant pressure or trauma its jelly-like center may bulge and leak via a tear in the exterior. When this happens it can compress nearby spinal nerves which trigger back pain and cause muscle spasms in the back and legs.
If you are suffering from profound back pain, visiting a specialized back pain doctor is a good idea. These physicians are trained specifically to address your discomfort without using opioid medications or surgery.
What are the causes of a herniated disk in the lower back?
Your vertebral discs lose some water, making them less flexible and more prone to rupture so the risk of herniation increases with age.
Individual factors including your weight, the amount of strenuous activities you undertake, and your genetics also play an important part in determining your risk of developing a herniated disc.
A herniated disc in the lower back can irritate nearby nerves and result in pain, numbness or weakness in an arm or leg. However, some people do not experience symptoms as herniated discs do not always press on nerve roots.
What are the symptoms of a herniated disc in the lower back?
It can be difficult to tell if the pain that you are experiencing is caused by a herniated disk in the lower back. A typical sign may be where the pain is located. While a herniated disc in the lower back can occur in any part of your spine, they are most common in the lumbar area (or the lower spine). The pain due to a compressed nerve can travel all the way from the top of your hips down to your calves.
The symptoms of a herniated disc in the lower back include:
- Numbness or a tingling in the leg and/or foot – often this occurs in the body part served by the affected nerves.
- Muscle weakness in the leg and/or foot – the muscles surrounding the affected nerves tend to weaken making it difficult to lift or hold items.
- Sciatic pain – a shooting or sharp pain that extends from the lower back down to the calf muscle or foot.
The severity of pain and discomfort ranges and it can worsen when you’re being active and lessen when you’re resting. Certain movements such as coughing can aggravate your symptoms.
How do I know if I have a herniated disk in the lower back?
The best way to know what a herniated disc in the lower back is and if you have one is by paying a visit to a herniated disc doctor. They will likely do a physical examination and one of the following:
CT or CAT scan – this combines images from numerous angles and combines them to create images of your spinal cord.
Myelogram – this is where dye is injected into the spinal fluid, and an X-ray is taken to locate the pressure on the spinal cord.
MRI – using 3D imaging of the spinal cord and lumbar area, the MRI images can locate the position of the herniated disk and determine which nerves are being affected
What treatment options are available for a herniated disk in the lower back?
The good news is that once you are diagnosed with a herniated disc in the lower back, there are many types of treatments available for a herniated disc, depending on the nature and severity of your pain.
If handled properly by a specialist pain doctor, conservative (or non surgical treatments) can be a safe and effective alternative to surgery.
Conservative non surgical treatment methods are the first stage of treatment for a herniated disc in the lower back. Around 80 percent of people experiencing back pain improve in 6 weeks. Conservative treatments typically involve one (or a combination), of the following treatments:
Rest and home exercise – the first step in conservative treatment is usually rest. This also needs to be combined with stretching and flexibility techniques for the spine and legs.
Medication – non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, naproxen or COX-2 inhibitors are often prescribed for pain relief. Muscle rеlаxаntѕ, lіkе mеthосаrbаmоl (Robaxin), сусlоbеnzарrіnе (Flеxеrіl), аnd саrіѕорrоdоl (Sоmа) may also be used in order tо соntrоl muscle ѕраѕmѕ.
If the pain from a herniated disc persists, pain doctors can prescribe narcotic pain medication or oral steroids. Epidural injections to reduce inflammation and relieve pain are also frequently used.
Physical Therapy – this therapy helps relieve the pressure on the nerve root, speed up the recovery process and prevent further injury. Physical therapists can also educate you on good posture and ergonomics, including the correct lifting technique, which helps to prevent further wear and tear of the discs.
Epidural Steroid Injections (ESI) – if the pain is severe, thе use оf ѕtеrоіd іnjесtіоnѕ саn bе аррlіеd іntо thе аrеа оf уоur hеrnіаtеd dіѕс. This reduces thе swelling аnd іnflаmmаtіоn оf thе nеrvеѕ.
Hоlіѕtіс thеrаріеѕ – if you prefer to try more holistic alternatives, there are a range of treatments available such as асuрunсturе, nutrіtіоnаl ѕuррlеmеntѕ, асuрrеѕѕurе аnd bіоfееdbасk.
If conservative treatments are not successful in treating a herniated disc in the lower back, surgical treatment may be required:
In general, if about 6 weeks of conservative treatment fails to relieve the herniated disc pain, or if the patient and the spine specialist determine that surgical treatment is required, there are several procedures available including a discectomy.
This is where the surgeon removes your damaged disk to relieve pressure on your nerves. This can be performed either via a cut in your back or neck or through a much smaller incision (micro-discectomy). This is where your surgeon inserts a thin tube with a camera on one end to see and remove the damaged disk.
Where can I find a specialist pain doctor?
Have you checked out our VIP Medical Group? Our team of top Ivy League trained pain management specialists and our multi-speciality clinic has great outcomes for treating patients with knee pain, low back pain, neck pain and various types of arthritis and joint pain. We help patients avoid surgery.
Remember to make sure your doctor is a Board Certified physician to ensure the best care possible.