Lumbar Disc Herniation Treatment

Lumbar disc herniation is the most common cause of lumbar back pain (low back pain) and leg pain (sciatica). The lumbar intervertebral discs are flat and round, present between the lumbar vertebrae and act as shock absorbers when you walk or run. There is a soft, gelatinous material in the center (nucleus pulposus) which is encased in strong elastic tissue forming a ring around it called annulus fibrosus.

Aging, injury or trauma may cause the annulus fibrosus to tear resulting in protrusion of the nucleus pulposus. This may compress the spinal nerves and/or spinal canal. The bulging disc may even break open releasing the gelatinous material, which is a chemical irritant, causing inflammation of the spinal nerves.

Obesity, sedentary lifestyle and smoking increase the risk of lumbar disc herniation.

Symptoms:

The symptoms of lumbar disc herniation include:

  • Mild to intense lumbar back pain, making it difficult to bend

  • Numbness and weakness in the leg or foot leading to the sensation of tingling (pins and needles)

  • Leg pain making it difficult to walk or stand

  • In rare cases, loss of bowel and bladder function (cauda equina syndrome) may occur. This condition requires immediate medical attention.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis includes medical history coupled with physical and neurological examination. Neurological examination involves the evaluation of reflexes, sensation, and muscle strength and other tests. To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor may order a MRI to evaluate changes in the disc and spinal nerves.

Treatment

 

Non-surgical treatment

Lumbar disc herniation treatment is almost always conservative initially.  Non-surgical treatment is preferred over surgery, especially in cases where lumbar back pain symptoms predominate over leg pain, and includes rest, activity modification, and pain medication which includes non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants and epidural injections. Physical therapy or acupuncture may be helpful in some cases.

Surgery

Lumbar disc herniation treatment with surgery is considered in cases with significant leg pain, muscle weakness and numbness that is unresolved after conservative treatment measures. Urgent surgery may be required if severe neurologic dysfunction or cauda equina syndrome occurs.

Microdiscectomy is the most commonly used surgical procedure for lumbar disc herniation treatment. It involves removal of part of the herniated disc causing nerve compression. It is a safe procedure but some of the rare risks include infection, nerve damage, dural leak, or hematoma. Most patients undergoing surgery find significant improvement in pain after the surgery.

Dr. Nemani is a spine surgery specialist who is always willing to discuss whether you may be a candidate for surgery for lumbar disc herniation treatment or whether non-surgical options would be more beneficial.