Lumbar Disk Disease

If you have lower back pain, you are not alone. Almost everyone has low back pain at one time or another. Understanding why it happens, and what you can do about it, is a big step toward relief.

Your spine is made up of bones called vertebrae. The vertebrae in your lower back are called the lumbar vertebrae. Your vertebrae are separated by disks, which act as cushions between the bones.

Your spinal cord passes through a tunnel, or canal, in the middle of the vertebrae. The cord is made up of nerves and other tissue. Spinal nerves, known as nerve roots, branch off the cord. These nerve roots exit through spaces between the vertebrae on each side and lead to other parts of the body.


With aging, changes occur to the disks in your spine. Over time they become worn and less plump. As the disks flatten, the vertebrae can also rub against each other, causing wear and tear to the bone. Sometimes this causes new growths called bone spurs to form.

The tough cartilage covering the disks can tear. The soft material inside the disk may bulge out, or herniate, causing it to push into the spinal canal and put pressure on the cord or nerve roots.

When a herniated disk or bony spur puts pressure on nerves, this can cause symptoms. You may have pain, tingling, numbness, or a burning feeling in your lower back, buttocks, hips, groin, or legs. This is known as sciatica. Some people may have weakness in the legs or feet. This can cause clumsiness or trouble walking.


If you have symptoms of lumbar disk disease, your health care provider may recommend certain tests. A straight leg raise, or SLR test, can be a good test for a herniated disk. Your healthcare provider can do this test in the office.

You may have imaging tests. These can include a computed tomography, or C-T scan or MRI.

You may also have a bone scan or a bone density test.


There are many kinds of treatment for lumbar disk disease. It can be treated with heat, ultrasound, and special exercises. Physical therapy and chiropractic care are sometimes used to relieve symptoms.

Medications can often relieve pain and calm inflamed nerves. The most common choices are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, known as NSAIDs. These include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Prescription pain medications, such as codeine or morphine, are sometimes prescribed for short periods of intense pain.

Steroids and anesthetic can be injected into the spinal canal. This may help relieve chronic pain.

A corset-type brace may help in some cases. This type of brace can be wrapped around the back and stomach. Some people may feel more comfortable and stable while wearing one.

If you have a herniated disk, or if these treatments don’t relieve your pain, surgery may be an option. Surgery can give fast relief of pain, weakness, and numbness to a person with severe sciatica. But it may work less well in other cases. Talk with your healthcare provider to see if surgery is a good option for you.

Things to Remember

  • Medication can help relieve pain and calm inflamed nerves.
  • A physical therapist or chiropractor can help relieve symptoms.
  • In some cases, surgery may help.

What We Have Learned

  1. As disks flatten, bones can rub against each other. True or false?
    The answer is True. New bone may grow as a result.

  2. A straight leg raise is a way of diagnosing bone spurs. True or false?
    The answer is False. This is a test for a herniated disk.

  3. Chiropractic treatment cannot help lower back pain. True or false?
    The answer is False. Some people can get relief from chiropractic care.