Also known as a herniated disc, lumbar disc prolapse is a condition that occurs when the gel-like center of spinal disc ruptures through a weak area in the outer wall called the annulus. It is most common in the lower back (lumbar spine), though it can also occur in the neck (cervical spine). Symptoms include pain in the lower back as well as leg pain (sciatica). Even though lumbar disc prolapse can be extremely painful, the symptoms are usually short-lived and most people feel better in just a few weeks without any surgical treatment. Lumbar disc prolapse can be better understood if one is familiar with the anatomy of the spine. It is made up of 24 bones called the vertebrae that are connected to one another to form a protective canal around the spinal cord.
The lumbar spine is the area of the lower back that is made of five vertebrae. Pain is caused in the lower back when a spinal disc begins to herniate i.e. when its jelly-like nucleus rubs against the outer ring either due to wear and tear or due to a sudden injury. Additionally, the material inside the disc may also release chemical irritants causing nerve inflammation resulting in pain, numbness, and weakness in one or both the legs. Practicing some simple herniated disc exercises and giving proper rest to the lower back can bring relief. A herniated disc is sometimes called a slipped disc in common parlance but this term is misleading as the disc itself is firmly attached to the vertebrae and remains there. Instead, it is the gel-like inner material of the disc that ‘slips’ out.
Most common causes of lumbar disc prolapse
It usually occurs because of disc degeneration, a natural process that can lead to a herniated disc because of age-related wear or tear and pressure on the spine. With advancing age, the naturally present water content of the disc decreases, making them less flexible. Due to the shrinkage of these discs, the space between the vertebrae keeps getting narrower, making the discs more prone to herniation. A sudden stressful motion while lifting heavy weights or shock during an injury can also cause lumbar disc prolapse.
Certain factors can increase the risk of developing a herniated disc. Some of them are as follows:
- Gender: Middle-aged men are more prone to lumbar disc prolapse as compared to others.
- Sedentary lifestyle: Lack of regular physical activity and incorrect posture can increase the risk of a herniated disc.
- Weight: Being overweight puts additional stress on the discs in the lower back.
- Physical strain: Some physically demanding jobs require frequent lifting, pushing, bending and pulling. If the lower back is strained during the activity instead of legs, then the person is at a greater risk.
- Smoking: Smoking can disrupt the oxygen supply to the discs, accelerating their degeneration.
Treatment for lumbar disc prolapse
The first step to recovery includes non-surgical treatment such as mild pain medication, adequate rest, physiotherapy, hydrotherapy and pain management. About 80% of the people suffering from lumbar disc prolapse experience a reduction in their symptoms within four to six weeks and return to normal activity. If pain persists, it is best to consult a doctor who can recommend non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to help relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Muscle relaxants can also be used in case of muscle spasms but they must be prescribed by a doctor. Practicing herniated disc exercises under the guidance of a trained physiotherapist can strengthen the lower back, leg and stomach muscles and increase the flexibility of the spine.
In case of loss of sensation in the legs, a surgical treatment called discectomy may have to be performed. The part of the ruptured disc causing pain is carefully removed and 80-85% of the patients are able to recover and resume their normal activity in about six weeks.
Eight out of ten people in the world suffer from back pain during some part of their lives. The key lies in prevention by taking care of certain things on a daily basis. Ensure good posture while sitting, sleeping and walking. Use the right technique during lifting any heavyweight and always maintain a healthy weight.
Staying clear off cigarettes and recreational drugs can also contribute towards an overall healthy lifestyle. Practicing physiotherapy exercises can strengthen the muscles that stabilize and support the spine.
With an exceptional team of highly trained physiotherapists, HCAH is well-equipped to provide quality treatment for lower back pain, shoulder and neck pain, knee pain and sports injury among others. To know more about their home physiotherapy services and treatments or to book an appointment, call 1800 102 4224 (toll-free).