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A lumbar (low back) disc herniation is a common problem. Descriptive terms for a disc herniation include slipped or ruptured disc. Herniated discs are regularly treated in our practice.
A lumbar herniated disc is a common cause of low back and leg pain (i.e. sciatica). Intervertebral discs, which act as the spine's shock absorbers, are located in between each vertebra. A tire-like band (annulus fibrosis) encases a gel-like substance, the nucleus pulposus.
Symptoms of a lumbar disc herniation may include:
How Does a Disc Herniate?
If the disc's outer band cracks or breaks open, the gel inside the disc can leak out causing a herniated disc. The disc material may place pressure on nearby nerve roots or the spinal cord. Additionally, nuclear material releases chemical irritants causing nerve inflammation and pain.
Sudden stress, such as from an accident, can cause a lumbar disc herniation. Sometimes, a disc herniation develops gradually over weeks or months.
Factors that can increase the risk for disc herniation include:
Our comprehensive diagnostic process includes:
MRI showing herniated lumbar discs
MRI sagittal (side) view of a large disc herniation of L5-S1
Above: The same disc herniation shown on an axial (overhead) MRI. Note the displacement of the nerve sac by the dark grey / black disc material.
Most lumbar disc herniations do not require surgery. Long-standing evidence suggests that pain associated with a herniated disc often diminishes without surgery within 4-6 months.
In fact, 80% of herniated discs get better on their own, without the need for surgery - and improve about 3 months after the onset of leg pain.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to predict which cases will have natural resolution, and which will not. There are many nonsurgical treatments to help relieve symptoms. These include:
In conjunction with these treatments, our staff will educate you about healthy posture and proper body mechanics.
If nonoperative treatment not effective, or there is evidence of neurological deficit (i.e. leg muscle weakness, or numbness), we may recommend surgery. The goals of surgery are to decompress nerve structures and stabilize the spine, if necessary.
At the Colorado Comprehensive Spine Institute (CCSI), this is usually done using a minimally invasive, endoscopic approach, and can be performed on an outpatient basis.
Shown above is placement of an endoscopic cannula (hollow tube) for removal of a herniated disc using a minimally invasive approach. All work is performed through the tube, which is the diameter of a nickel.
Above: A lateral (side view) x-ray taken during surgery shows the cannula in place.
Above: Postoperative photo shows two small scars from this poke-hole surgery are barely visible! This patient had a fusion performed through this same approach!
Instrumentation (i.e. rods, screws, interbody devices) and fusion (bone graft) joins and stabilized two or more vertebrae. The empty space created by a complete discectomy may be filled with bone graft and a cage, or spacer. There are different types of bone graft, including your own bone harvested from your hip.
Our practice performs many spine surgeries utilizing minimally invasive techniques. At CCSI, unlike many centers, the surgery for disc herniations (decompression or decompression with fusion) is typically done using minimally invasive techniques. Your surgeon will explain your procedure, how it will be performed, along with the benefits and possible risks.
Most patients can begin to get out of bed on the same day surgery is performed to treat lumbar disc herniation. If surgery is performed minimally invasively, the surgery may even be done as an outpatient procedure. Activity is gradually increased and patients are typically able to go home within hours to day(s) after their procedure, depending on the type and extent of the surgery. Expect some pain after the procedure. However, we have pain medications available that will keep you comfortable.
At home, you will need to continue to rest. You will be instructed on how to gradually increase your activity. You may still need to take the pain medications for a while. However, pain and discomfort should begin to reduce within a week or two after surgery. We will discuss with you other techniques for reducing pain and increasing flexibility before you leave for home. We will also discuss with you a timeframe for when you can resume basic activities such as walking, driving and light lifting, and when you can return to more advanced activities such as work, sports and yard work.
At our practice your return to health is our primary concern. If you have any questions about your condition, your treatment, or your recovery, do not hesitate to call us.