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What Is Lumbar Disc Syndrome?

The lumbar spine (low back) is made of five vertebrae (bones) separated by cartilaginous discs. These discs are shock absorbers. They cushion the bones and increase flexibility of the lower back. Lumbar disc syndrome is a group of symptoms related to disorders of these lumbar discs. Degenerative changes or trauma may burst the annulus fibrosus. The annulus fibrosus is the tough band of cartilage around each disc. Disc material may bulge (herniate) into the spinal canal or nerve root canal and cause pain.

What Causes Lumbar Disc Syndrome?

Degenerative changes in discs are due to normal aging. Poor posture and strenuous work with poor lifting methods may make these changes worse. Discs slowly become worn, less plump, and flat. When disc spaces become so narrow that vertebrae rub together, vertebrae edges have wear-and-tear changes. Then bone spurs develop that may press on the spinal cord or nerve roots. As the nerve is irritated, back and leg pain, tingling, and numbness or weakness in the legs or feet can occur. Rarely, with very large, sudden disc bulges, bladder and bowel control may be lost.

What Are the Symptoms of Lumbar Disc Syndrome?

Pain in the back or tingling and numbness may reach the buttocks, hips, groin, or legs. Pain from a bulging disc is worse while moving, coughing, laughing, or straining when having a bowel movement. Some people also have weakness, clumsiness, foot-drop, or trouble walking.

How Is Lumbar Disc Syndrome Diagnosed?

The health care provider will obtain a medical history and do an examination. X-rays may also be done. One or more of the following tests may also be done for persistent pain or if surgery is being considered: computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), combined myelography/CT, and electromyography/nerve conduction velocity test (EMG/NCV).

How Is Lumbar Disc Syndrome Treated?

A trained physical therapist will use conservative treatments, such as physical therapy, ultrasound, localized heat, and special exercises. Injection of steroids and an anesthetic drug into the spinal canal may help pain. Surgery is usually the final option if other treatments don’t work.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Lumbar Disc Syndrome:

  • DO use good sitting and walking postures.
  • DO always wear a seat belt when traveling in a motor vehicle.
  • DO make a lumbar support, if you sit for long periods. Put a small pillow or rolled towel between your low back and the seat. Stand and walk around often (about every hour).
  • DO always lift heavy objects with the correct straight posture. Hold the object close to your body and use your thigh and leg muscles to lift.
  • DO regular exercises approved by your health care provider.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have problems with your medicines.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have trouble walking, develop weakness or cannot move your limbs, or lose control of your bowels or bladder.
  • DON’T sit for long periods.
  • DON’T lift and twist, push, or pull heavy objects. Lift with leg muscles.
  • DON’T return to work without your health care provider’s OK
  • DON’T do strenuous activities until your health care provider says you can.

Contact the following sources:

  • American Physical Therapy Association
    Tel: (800) 999-2782
  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
    Tel: (800) 346-AAOS (346-2267)
  • American Chronic Pain Association
    Tel: (800) 533-3231
  • American Chronic Pain Association
    Tel: (800) 533-3231
  • Arthritis Foundation
    Tel: (800) 283-7800

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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