Lumbar herniated disc

What is lumbar spine disc herniation?

 A spinal disc herniation, herniated disc or a slipped disc, refers to a condition affecting one of the discs in the spine. Between each vertebrae in the spine, there is a cushion, known as an intervertebral disc.

A tear in the out, fibrous ring of one these discs can allow the central, jelly-like section of the disc to budge out. This is called a spinal disc herniation, more commonly referred to as a slipped disc. Although it can happen anywhere along the spine, it most commonly occurs in the lower back (lumbar).

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptom of a lumbar spine herniated disc is back pain. If the disc presses on surrounding nerves, individuals may experience arm or leg pain, numbness or tingling, and weakness. Intense pain in the buttocks, thighs and even feet is also common. 

In some case, people experience no symptoms at all.

What causes it?

The most common cause is gradual wear and tear through ageing. As a person ages, the water content of the intervertebral discs reduces, making them less flexible and more likely to rupture. Additionally, bending, twisting, lifting heavy objects awkwardly, obesity or an injury or trauma can all put increased strain on the back.

How can it be prevented?

The risk of a slipped disc can be reduced by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and a healthy weight, and regular exercise is important. When lifting heavy objects it is also helpful to observe a safe technique to avoid unnecessary strain. Smoking also causes discs to lose flexibility and giving up may help to reduce the chances of suffering a herniated disc.

What is the treatment?

Most herniated discs will gradually improve and treatment may just consist of avoiding painful positions, taking gentle exercise and medication for the pain. Physiotherapy is also commonly used to treat a slipped disc, using exercise plans, positions and massages to treat the injury.

Medications are used to ease the pain and the type used will depend on its severity. Over the counter pain killers are used for mild cases whilst stronger painkillers are prescribed for worse cases. Additionally, anti-inflammatory injections directly into the spine are used to relieve severe pain in the short term in some cases and muscle relaxants are also deployed in some cases.

If the symptoms do not improve or are very severe, surgery might be an option. An operation known as a discectomy can be used to cut away part of the disc to release the pressure on the surrounding nerves. 

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