How Serious is a Herniated Lumbar Disc?

If you are one of the millions of Americans who suffer from a lumbar disc herniation, you may be wondering how serious this condition is. A herniated disc can cause a number of symptoms, even debilitating pain that affects day-to-day living. The severity of your symptoms and any potential related complications will determine the seriousness of the case and what treatment should be administered to help you.

What is a Lumbar Disc Herniation?

A lumbar disc herniation, or herniated lumbar disc, is a condition in which one of the discs (cushion-like spacers) between the bones of your lower back has weakened or been injured, causing it to push out of its normal position. The displacement and/or degeneration of a lumbar disc may cause symptoms (including moderate to severe back pain), inflammation, and sometimes spinal cord compression (including nerve impingement).

What are the Symptoms of a Herniated Lumbar Disc?

Symptoms are often the first indicator of a herniated disc. They include:

  • Lower back pain
  • Pain that radiates down one or both legs, as far as your feet or toes
  • Numbness, tingling, burning, or weakness in the hips or legs
  • Stiffness in the lower back
  • Difficulty standing, walking, lifting objects, or bending over

If symptoms are manageable, individuals may not seek treatment. However, chronic symptoms that may be due to a herniated lumbar disc should be evaluated by an orthopedic surgeon. Treatment can usually relieve symptoms and prevent ongoing spinal cord compression, which may otherwise lead to permanent nerve damage.

What Happens if a Herniated Lumbar Disc is Not Treated?

If this condition is not treated, a herniated disc will often cause chronic pain. Symptoms may become debilitating and significantly impact your quality of life. In some individuals, a herniated disc in the lumbar spine may lead to long-term spinal cord compression, which can result in permanent nerve damage. Some spinal deformities may also develop if a disc herniation is untreated for an extended period of time.

For these reasons, a herniated lumbar disc should be taken seriously. The severity of your symptoms will determine the type of treatment that is necessary. Any individual who suspects they have a herniated disc should be evaluated by an orthopedic surgeon. Your surgeon can help determine whether the herniation may be compressing the spine and what the best course of action should be.

What is the Treatment for a Lumbar Disc Herniation?

Treatment for a herniated disc includes the following options:

  • Conservative Treatment: Most patients will be advised to undergo nonsurgical treatment options such as physical therapy, lifestyle modifications, bracing, medications, and/or spinal injections. If these fail to ease symptoms, or if there has been considerable nerve damage, surgery may then be recommended.
  • Lumbar Disc Replacement Surgery: In most cases, the ideal surgery for a herniated lumbar disc is disc replacement. This surgery removes the damaged disc and replaces it with an artificial disc, which alleviates symptoms while allowing the spine to continue to move naturally.
  • Spinal Fusion Surgery: In some cases, spinal fusion may be advised. This procedure removes the herniated disc and fuses the vertebrae together using a bone graft and implant. Muscle sparing and minimally invasive fusion techniques are used to minimize the soft tissue damage and ease the recovery after surgery.
  • Lumbar Stenosis Surgery: If the spinal cord has been compressed, stenosis surgery will be performed to extract the herniated disc and portions of excess bone or arthritic debris. Surgically decompressing the spine relieves symptoms and prevents long-term nerve damage.

Herniated lumbar discs can be a serious condition if left untreated. Fortunately, effective treatments are available to reduce or eliminate the symptoms and improve quality of life. If you’re experiencing lumbar pain and/or other symptoms of a herniated lumbar disc, schedule an appointment with an orthopedic spine surgeon. Early diagnosis and treatment can help to reduce the risk of long-term complications of lumbar disc herniations.

Dr. Stephen Pehler is a board-certified orthopedic spine surgeon with combined training in orthopedics and neurosurgery. He offers the best treatment options and outcomes for his patients. Call 303-695-6060 or contact us online to book your appointment with Dr. Pehler today.