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​​​What is lumbar disc disease?

Lumbar disc disease refers to a collection of degenerative disorders that can lead to low back pain as people age. There are three main processes that make up lumbar disc disease:

  • Internal disc disruption
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Segmental instability


What causes lumbar disc disease?

Lumbar disc disease occurs because of a change in the structure of the normal disc. Usually, disc disease comes as a result of aging and the degeneration that occurs within the disc.


What are the symptoms of lumbar disc disease?

The symptoms of lumbar disc disease vary depending on where the disc has herniated and what nerve root it is pushing on. Symptoms may include:

  • Sporadic or continuous back pain; this may be made worse by movement, coughing, sneezing or standing for long periods of time
  • Spasm of the back muscles
  • Sciatica which is pain that starts near the back or buttock and travels down the leg to the calf or into the foot
  • Muscle weakness in the legs
  • Numbness in the leg or foot
  • Decreased reflexes at the knee or ankle
  • Changes in bladder or bowel function

Each individual may experience different symptoms, and symptoms may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always talk to your provider for a diagnosis.


How is lumbar disc disease diagnosed?

A complete medical history and physical exam will be performed; diagnostic procedures may also include:

  • X-ray
  • MRI; this imaging test uses radio waves and a powerful magnetic field to produce a detailed 3-D or 2-D images of the body tissues and organs.
  • Myelogram; this procedure uses dye that is injected into the spinal cord to make the structure clearly visible on X-rays
  • CT Scan; this uses special x-ray equipment to obtain image data from different angles around the body and then uses computer processing of the information to show 3-D images and cross-sectional images of the body tissues and organs.
  • Electromyography (EMG); this diagnostic test measures muscle response or electrical activity in response to a nerve's stimulation of the muscle.


How is lumbar disc disease diagnosed?

Specific treatment for lumbar disc disease will be determined by your physicians based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history
  • Extent of condition
  • Type of condition
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the condition
  • Your opinion or preference.

Usually, conservative therapy is the first line of treatment to manage lumbar disc disease; this may include a combination of the following:

  • Bed rest
  • Patient education on proper body mechanics to help decrease the chance of worsening pain or damage to the disc
  • Physical therapy
  • Weight control
  • Use of a lumbosacral back support
  • Medications to control pain and/or relax muscles

If these treatments do not help, surgery for removal of the disc may be recommended.