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What is a Lumbar Herniated Disc?

A herniated disc is a condition in which the outer fibers (annulus) of the intervertebral disc are damaged, causing the soft inner material of the nucleus pulposus to rupture out of its space. It is the most common cause of lower back pain and pain that radiates down the leg (radiculopathy).

Causes of a Lumbar Herniated Disc

A herniated disc, common in the lower back (lumbar spine), occurs when there is a tear in the outer lining of the disc (annulus fibrosus). This causes the inner jelly-like material (nucleus pulposus) to leak out and place pressure on the adjacent spinal nerve root.

Symptoms of a Lumbar Herniated Disc

The most common signs and symptoms of a lumbar disc herniation are back pain that radiates to the buttocks and legs, numbness in the leg or foot, weakness in the leg or foot, and rarely, loss of bowel and bladder control.

Diagnosis of a Lumbar Herniated Disc

Proper diagnosis of the condition requires a complete medical history and a careful physical examination by your physician. Some of the additional diagnostic tests your doctor may suggest include:

  • X-rays help to detect the amount of wear and tear present and to rule out other conditions.
  • CT and MRI scans help to confirm the diagnosis of a herniated disc.

Treatment Options for a Lumbar Herniated Disc

Conservative Treatment for a Lumbar Herniated Disc

Conservative treatments include pain medications, physical therapy and avoiding strenuous activity if the pain is severe.

Epidural steroid injection (ESI) can be considered if the pain is intolerable even with medications and rest.

Surgical Treatment for a Lumbar Herniated Disc

Lumbar microdiscectomy is a surgical procedure performed to remove the herniated part of the disc and any fragments that are applying pressure on the spinal nerve. This surgical procedure involves the use of a surgical microscope and microsurgical techniques to gain access to the lumbar spine. The microscope magnifies and illuminates the area of operation. Only a small portion of the herniated disc that pinches the nerve roots is removed.

  • Hao-Hua Wu, M.D.

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    Pavilion 3 Building 29A
    Orange, CA 92868

  • UCI Health — Tustin

    1451 Irvine Blvd.
    Tustin, CA 92780

  • UCI Health — Newport Beach

    2161 San Joaquin Hills Road
    Newport Beach, CA 92660

  • UCI Health — Yorba Linda

    18637 Yorba Linda Blvd.
    Yorba Linda, CA 92886

Useful Links

  • Massachusetts General Hospital
  • University of Southern California
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  • University of California San Francisco Department of Orthopaedic Surgery
  • Harvard Medical School
  • Brigham and Women’s Hospital
  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
  • AOSpine
  • North American Spine Society
  • Global Spine Research Initiative