Lumbar Herniated Disc

A herniated disc in the lower back can cause low back pain and/or leg pain by putting pressure on the nerve root. Nonsurgical and surgical treatments for a lumbar disc herniation are available to patients, depending on their level of pain.

Disc herniation symptoms usually start for no apparent reason. Or they may occur when a person lifts something heavy and/or twists the lower back, motions that put added stress on the discs.

Lumbar herniated discs are a widespread medical problem, most often affecting people age 35 to 50.

How a Lumbar Disc Herniates

A tough outer ring called the annulus protects the gel-like interior of each disc, known as the nucleus pulposus.

Due to aging and general wear and tear, the discs lose some of the fluid that makes them pliable and spongy. As a result, the discs tend to become flatter and harder. This process—known as disc degeneration—starts fairly early in life, often showing up in imaging tests in early adulthood.

When pressure or stress is placed on the spine, the disc’s outer ring may bulge, crack, or tear. If this occurs in the lower back (the lumbar spine), the disc protrusion may push against the nearby spinal nerve root. Or the inflammatory material from the interior may irritate the nerve. The result is shooting pains into the buttock and down the leg.

A person with a herniated disc may be told by the doctor that degenerative disc disease led to the lumbar herniated disc. This term can be alarming and misleading. Degenerative disc disease is not a progressive disease per se, and it does not always cause chronic or persistent problems.

Non-Surgical Treatment for a Lumbar Herniated Disc

Most lumbar herniated discs resolve on their own, so non-surgical treatment of symptoms is usually sufficient.

Most cases of lumbar herniated disc symptoms resolve on their own within six weeks, so patients are often advised to start with non-surgical treatments. However, this can vary with the nature and severity of symptoms.

Initial Pain Control for a Lumbar Herniated Disc

Controlling the intense pain is the most urgent need when symptoms first appear. Initial pain control options are likely to include:

Bed rest for severe pain is best limited to one or two days, as extended rest will lead to stiffness and more pain. After that point, light activity and frequent movement—with rest breaks as needed—is advised. Heavy lifting and strenuous exercise should be avoided.