Everyone experiences lower back pain from time to time whether it’s dull, stabbing or shooting pain. Even if you don’t remember doing something to jar your back you should see a doctor if your lower back pain lasts for more than 3 days (72 hours) or if your back pain is accompanied by tingling, numbness or shooting pain in the leg. It could be a herniated lumbar disc, sometimes called a bulging disc, that is causing the back pain and/or sciatica nerve pain in the legs. Typically this will only feel better with treatment.
A herniated disc occurs when the jelly-like fluid that should remain between our vertebrae begins to push up against or leak through the outer ring of one (or more) of the lower back vertebrae. Once outside of the disc, the fluid puts pressure on the nerve which causes pain.
Causes of Herniated Discs
- Improper lifting. Lifting with your back and not bending down to life with your legs can put stress on the lower vertebrae causing them to herniate.
- Weight. Being overweight puts added stress on the discs in your lower back.
- Repetitive activities that strain your spine. Many jobs are physically demanding. Some require constant lifting, pulling, bending, or twisting. Even if you don’t experience a sudden jerk or motion, the repetition could cause the disc to herniate over time.
- Frequent driving or sitting. Staying seated for long periods, plus the vibration from the car engine, can put pressure on your spine and discs.
- Inactive lifestyle.
- Smoking. It is believed that smoking reduces the oxygen supply to the disc which can cause it to degenerate faster than a non-smoker.
Treatment for Herniated Discs
Once your spine specialist has determined through testing that you have one or more herniated discs, he or she will recommend the best options for treatment.
Most often a non-surgical treatment plan will be started with one or more of the following treatments:
- Physical therapy, exercise and gentle stretching to help relieve pressure on the nerve root
- Ice and heat therapy for pain relief
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, naproxen or COX-2 inhibitors for pain relief
- Narcotic pain medications for pain relief
- Oral steroids to decrease inflammation for pain relief
- Epidural injections to decrease inflammation for pain relief
If after six weeks there isn’t an improvement in the pain using the non-surgical methods, a neurosurgeon can perform lumbar disc microsurgery. Watch a video that explains more about this minimally-invasive surgery. Surgery is highly successful with only about 10% of patients who will have a recurrence of the herniation in the same place.
If you are experiencing this type of pain, please contact Dr. Fayaz’s office for a consultation.