What causes back pain?
Most Americans will experience back pain at some point in their lives. Back pain causes can include sore muscles, herniated discs, fractures, and other problems such as tumors or cancer.
Most back problems develop because of bad habits such as poor posture, overexertion, or sitting incorrectly. Pushing, pulling and lifting things carelessly can also injure the lower spine. Injuries from sports, falls, or accidents can cause back problems as well.
When a disc degenerates or begins to break down, the core can leak through the outer section of the disc. This condition is called a lumbar herniated disc in the lower back. A herniation in this area can put direct pressure on the nerves that run through the buttock and lower leg. This “pinching” of the nerve can lead to problems for the individual.
What are the signs and symptoms of a lumbar herniated disc?
Symptoms can include one, or a combination of many of the following:
- Buttock, Leg and/or foot pain – this can occur with or without lower back pain, but the leg pain is generally worse than the lower back pain.
- Numbness, weakness, and/or tingling in the buttock, leg, and foot
- Loss of bladder or bowel control is a rare symptom, but can be an indication of a more serious medical condition called cauda equine syndrome
How is a lumbar herniated disc treated?
It is common for the pain of a lumbar herniated disc to get better within six weeks, but while waiting to see if symptoms subside on their own, nonsurgical treatments can help ease pain and promote healing.
The most common nonsurgical treatments include:
- Heat and/or ice therapy
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDS such as ibuprofen
- Oral steroids such as prednisone
- Narcotic pain medication such as hydrocodone
- Physical therapy
- Epidural or cortisone injections
- If all else fails- surgery may be the best option to heal the patient
If pain and symptoms continue after six weeks, and especially if the pain is severe, a microdiscectomy procedure may be the best option. A general rule is to do nonsurgical treatment for at least six weeks, but surgery might be recommended prior to six weeks of nonsurgical care if:
- The pain is severe and the patient is having trouble maintaining a reasonable level of functioning
- The patient is experiencing progressive neurological symptoms, such as worsening buttock or leg weakness or numbness
Where can I learn more?
I’ll be hosting a free seminar 6:30 pm - 7:30 pm, March 21 at the IU Health Ball Memorial Jackson Street Center in Muncie. I’ll be talking about lumbar disc herniations and will have time to answer any questions you might have.
Registration is required for the free event by calling 765.741.1073 or 800.237.9625.
Dr. Joseph Duncan is an orthopedic surgeon with Central Indiana Orthopedics in Muncie with privileges at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital. For more information, visit iuhealth.org/ball-memorial or ciocenter.com and click on spine center at top of page.