The discs between each vertebra are made of cartilage that holds a jellylike substance. With age, discs begin to break down. When this happens in the lower back, it’s called lumbar degenerative disc disease.
The lower back, or lumbar spine, starts at your lowest rib and reaches to the top of your pelvis. There are five vertebrae bones surrounding the spinal cord with spongy, doughnut-shaped discs serving as cushions between the bones.
The discs get drier and thinner with time, impairing their shock-absorbing function. They also crack and develop tiny tears in the outer wall near nerves. A rupture in the wall allows the gel inside to ooze out and irritate nearby nerves. All of these changes can cause pain, numbness or weakness.
Lumbar disc degeneration also affects the facet joints at the back of the vertebrae, and ligaments that support the spine. The degeneration can lead to spondylolisthesis or scoliosis and compress nerves in the spine — this is called spinal stenosis, which causes pain, numbness and tingling in the legs.
Norton Neuroscience Institute spine specialists are experienced in treating lumbar degenerative disc disease.
Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease Treatment
A herniated or bulging lumbar disc can compress nerves, leading to pain and numbness in the legs.
Many nonsurgical treatments can eliminate lumbar degenerative disc pain. Options include:
- Cold/heat therapy
- Therapy to help you better understand and manage your pain
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication
- Physical therapy and occupational therapy
- Mental health therapy to help you cope with your condition
- Injections to reduce swelling around a nerve
Surgery is considered for patients who have not gotten relief or whose symptoms have worsened. Surgical options include:
- Surgery to relieve pressure on the compressed nerves: This procedure can be performed with a minimally invasive approach that can allow for faster rehabilitation.
- Surgical fusion to stabilize the spine is another option to ease pressure on the nerves.