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Dr. Mark J. Kirk &
Dr. James McNally
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Lumbar Disk Herniation

 

 


Almost everyone experiences low back pain. To alleviate it, the key is identifying which of the many conditions that affect the back is responsible.

Lumbar disk herniation is a well-known cause of back pain, but it's not as common as most people think. In fact, only about 5% of those who go to the doctor for low back pain have a disk herniation.

These people usually experience back and leg pain, as well as muscle spasms in their low back and leg. They also commonly report muscle weakness, numbness and pins and needles in the thigh, leg and foot.

As herniations usually occur on one side of a disk, the pain is generally worse on the corresponding side of the back. The pain can worsen with coughing, straining or sneezing, as well as slouching and bending, which compresses irritated disks in the spine. It often gets better with bending backward or leaning to one side (the one opposite to the pain), which takes pressure off irritated disks. Because of this, people with lumbar disk herniation often adopt a particular posture or walking stance to ease discomfort -- bent sideways and forward, or with their knees slightly bent to relieve pain in the legs.

While the pain of lumbar disk herniation can radiate into one or both legs, the cause of the condition occurs in the lumbar spine, which is just above your buttocks. Your spine comprises bones called vertebrae, and in the lumbar spine there are five. Like the coils of a slinky, these vertebrae are stacked one on top of the other and move in unison.

To prevent friction during this movement, intervertebral disks cushion and protect the vertebrae. These disks are soft, fluid-filled pads, and when they become herniated, the gel-like material inside bulges out into the spinal canal (usually more to one side or the other than straight back).

Within the spinal canal lies the spinal cord, which contains spinal nerves that exit between vertebrae and branch out to the rest of the body. The displaced gel compresses these nerves, causing pain in the low back and the areas of the body to which nerves travel from the spinal cord. In severe cases, the displaced gel can even compress the spinal cord itself, and in such cases chiropractors usually refer patients to a medical doctor or a hospital.

Usually, a single event doesn't trigger such a herniation. A disk herniation is more likely a result of steady abuse. People whose work involves lots of twisting, bending, sitting or heavy lifting are more at risk, as these activities cause disk stress and wear and tear. Truck drivers, for example, endure prolonged periods of sitting in a vibrating vehicle, which can cause tremendous stress for the intervertebral disks and over time lead to a herniation.

While extreme cases of this condition may require surgery, conservative chiropractic care is usually sufficient. For that reason, people with lumbar disk herniation should consult their chiropractor to discuss methods of care that can relieve pressure on affected disks and ease associated muscle spasms and inflammation.