Herniated Disk in the Lower Back
A herniated disk is a condition that may occur anywhere along the spine, but usually occurs in the lower back. It is often called a bulging, protruding, or ruptured disk. It is among the most common sources of lower back pain, as well as leg pain or "sciatica."
Between 60% and 80% of people will experience low back pain at some point in their lives. Many of these people are going to have low back pain and leg pain triggered by a herniated disk.
Although a herniated disk could be extremely painful, most people feel far better with just a couple of weeks or months of nonsurgical treatment. Nevertheless, others might need to pursue surgical options to get back to one hundred percent. Whether surgical or nonsurgical treatment is ideal for you, you can count on Dr. Kathleen Weaver to collaborate with you to find the best treatment plan for your needs. If you might have a herniated disk in Central Missouri, consider contacting Dr. Weaver at Audrain Orthopaedics in Mexico, Missouri.
Your spine is comprised of 24 bones, called vertebrae, that are stacked on top of one another. These bones connect to create a canal that safeguards the spinal cord.
Five vertebrae make up the lower back. This area is called your lumbar spine.
Other parts of your spine include:
- Spinal cord and nerves. These "electrical cables" travel through the spinal canal taking messages in between your brain and muscles. Nerve roots branch off from the spinal cord through openings in the vertebrae.
- Intervertebral disks. In between your vertebrae are flexible intervertebral disks. These disks are flat and round, and about a half inch thick.
- Intervertebral disks act as shock absorbers when you walk or run. They are comprised of two elements:
- Annulus fibrosus. This is the tough, flexible outer ring of the disk.
- Nucleus pulposus. This is the sensitive, gelatinous center of the disk.
A disk begins to herniate when its gelatinous nucleus pushes against its outer ring as a result of wear and tear or a sudden trauma. This tension against the outer ring might trigger lower back pain.
If the pressure continues, the gelatinous nucleus may push all the way through the disk's outer ring or cause the ring to bulge. This leaves pressure on the spinal cord and surrounding nerve roots. Furthermore, the disk material generates chemical irritants which contribute to nerve inflammation. Whenever a nerve root is irritated, there might be pain, numbness, and weakness in just one or both of your legs, a problem called "sciatica."
A herniated disk is usually the result of natural, age-related weathering on the spine. This process is referred to as disk degeneration. In children and young adults, disks have high water content. As people age, the water content in the disks lessens and the disks become less flexible. The disks start to diminish and the spaces between the vertebrae become narrower. This regular aging process makes the disks more prone to herniation.
A traumatic event, like a fall, may also trigger a herniated disk.
Particular factors might raise your risk of a herniated disk. These include:
- Gender. Men between the ages of 20 and 50 are most likely to have a herniated disk.
- Improper lifting. Using your back muscles rather than your legs to move weighty objects might cause a herniated disk. Twisting while you lift may also make your back vulnerable. Lifting with your legs, not your back, may safeguard your spine.
- Weight. Being overweight places added tension on the disks within your lower back.
- Repeated activities that strain your spine. Plenty of jobs are physically demanding. Some call for constant lifting, pulling, bending, or twisting. Using safe lifting and movement techniques can help protect your back.
- Frequent driving. Remaining seated for long periods, plus the shaking from the car engine, may put tension on your spine and disks.
- Inactive lifestyle. Regular exercise is essential in avoiding several medical conditions, including a herniated disk.
- Smoking. It is thought that smoking lowers the oxygen supply to the disk and causes more rapid degeneration.
In many cases within Mexico, MO and the surrounding areas, low back pain is the first symptom of a herniated disk. This pain might last for a few days, then improve. Other symptoms may include:
- Sciatica. This is a sharp, often acute pain which extends from the buttock down the back of just one leg. It is caused by pressure on the spinal nerve.
- Numbness or a tingling sensation in the leg and/or foot.
- Weakness within the leg and/or foot.
- Decrease of bladder or bowel control. This is very rare and might indicate a more serious trouble called cauda equina syndrome. This condition is triggered by the spinal nerve roots being compressed. It demands prompt medical attention.
Medical History and Physical Examination
After reviewing your symptoms and medical history, your doctor will carry out a physical exam. The exam may include the following tests:
- Neurological examination. A neurological exam is going to help your physician determine if you have any muscle weakness or loss of sensation. During the exam, he or she will:
- Check muscle strength in your lower leg by examining how you walk on both your heels and toes. Muscle strength in other parts of your body might also be tested.
- Detect loss of sensation by checking whether you can feel a slight touch on your leg and foot.
- Test your reflexes at the knee and ankle. These may sometimes be absent if there is a compressed nerve root in your spine.
- Straight leg raise (SLR) test. This test is a very accurate predictor of a disk herniation in patients under the age of 35. Throughout the test, you lie on your back and your physician carefully lifts your affected leg. Your knee stays straight. If you feel pain down your leg and below the knee, it is a strong indication that you have a herniated disk.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. These reports provide clear pictures of the body's soft tissues, including intervertebral disks. Your doctor may order an MRI scan to help verify the diagnosis and to learn more about which spinal nerves are affected.
If you are unable to tolerate an MRI, a computerized tomography (CT) scan, or a CT myelogram might be ordered instead.
If you wish to find out more about Mexico, MO herniated disks and their proper treatment, you can reach out to Dr. Kathleen Weaver for further guidance by scheduling an appointment with Audrain Orthopaedics. Don't think that pain in the back is something you simply have to deal with. There may be a solution closer than you assume.