What is lumbar disk disease?
Lumbar disk disease, or herniated disk, is one of the most common causes of lower back pain, as well as leg pain called sciatica. The spine includes 33 vertebrae (bones) that are separated by spongy or rubbery disks, about half an inch thick. These flexible disks act as shock absorbers for the spine when you walk or run. The vertebrae connect and create a protective canal around the spinal cord. The first seven cervical vertebrae are in the neck; the next 12 are in the chest area (thoracic); and the five lumbar vertebrae are in the lower back. There are five sacral vertebrae below the waist, and the final four vertebrae comprise the tailbone. Although a herniated disk can occur anywhere on the spine, it is in the lumbar area that most herniated disks occur. The neck area is also a common area for herniated disks.
Running through the spinal cord are nerves that carry messages between your brain and muscles. Nerves branch out from the spinal cord through openings in the vertebrae. If a disk is injured or degenerates, it can bulge, slip, rupture or protrude into the spinal column through a tear in its tough outer layer (annulus). There’s not enough room in the spinal column for both the spinal nerve and a fragment of herniated disk. If the displacement presses on and irritates a spinal nerve it can cause pain or other symptoms. However, some people have no pain or other symptoms, and don’t know what caused their herniated disk.
It is rare to need further treatment other than resting for a few days. About 90% of people who have a herniated disk get better in a few days to a few weeks. However, herniated disks usually mean they are in the early stages of degeneration and herniated disks can recur.