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Lumbar Disc Herniation/Sciatica

Back pain is a common experience for many athletes. A herniated disc, sometimes called a ruptured or slipped disc, can be a source of this pain. The lumbar discs are tough and fibrous on the outside, with a soft, jelly-like center. The lumbar discs can rupture, causing the soft material in the center to push against the outer ring. A lumbar herniated disc puts pressure on the spinal cord and nerves, resulting in pain that can be severe. Sometimes the pain from a lumbar disc herniation can radiate down one or both legs. This pain radiating down the leg is often referred to as “sciatica.”

Lumbar Disc Herniation/Sciatica Hero Image 2

Back pain is a common experience for many athletes. A herniated disc, sometimes called a ruptured or slipped disc, can be a source of this pain. Between the vertebrae that make up the spine are flat, round discs that act as shock absorbers between the vertebrae and allow your back to have a wide range of motion. Together, the vertebrae and discs form a column that extends from the neck (cervical) to the lower (lumbar) part of the back. Inside this column are the spinal cord and other nerves that connect to the brain and muscles.

The lumbar discs are tough and fibrous on the outside, with a soft, jelly-like center. The lumbar discs can rupture, causing the soft material in the center to push against the outer ring. A lumbar herniated disc puts pressure on the spinal cord and nerves, resulting in pain that can be severe.

Sometimes the pain from a lumbar disc herniation can radiate down one or both legs. This pain radiating down the leg is often referred to as “sciatica.”

What causes Lumbar Disc Herniation/Sciatica?

Older people are at greater risk for a herniated disc. The discs become weakened due to the aging process and long term wear and tear. Sometimes, a sudden movement or heavy strain can cause a herniated disc. Less commonly, a sudden blow to the back can also cause a ruptured disc.

Lumbar herniated disc injuries are most common in these sports:

• Racket sports (tennis, racket ball, squash)
• Hockey
• Football
• Rugby
• Basketball
• Baseball
• Weightlifting
• Golf
• Swimming

 

Symptoms

Symptoms of a lumbar herniated disc will depend on the disc’s location along the spine. Lumbar disc herniations often cause pain in the lower back and legs. Sometimes, a herniated disc in the lumbar spine can just cause leg pain, numbness, and weakness without back pain. Common symptoms also include:

• Pain with coughing or sneezing
• Sharp, shooting pain in the leg
• Numbness
• Muscle weakness

When to see a doctor

If you experience symptoms of a lumbar herniated disc, such as leg pain, that doesn’t resolve within a few days, you should see your doctor. If you have any progressive weakness in your legs or any associated bowel or bladder changes, you should seek medical attention immediately. Your doctor will conduct a physical examination to see if you have muscle weakness or loss of sensation. He or she may ask you to lie on your back and raise your leg, called a straight leg test. If this movement causes pain in your leg, it’s a strong indication that you have a herniated disc.

X-rays are usually ordered to evaluate the bones. Imaging tests, such as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) test, can help confirm a diagnosis.

Non-operative treatment

Treatment of lumbar disc problems are  usually successful with non-surgical measures. Conservative treatments include:

• Rest from activities and sports
• Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen, to help relieve pain and inflammation
• Muscle relaxers for spasm
• Physical therapy
• Steroid injection to relieve severe pain

If the pain persists, x-ray guided injection of a corticosteroid can often be helpful.

If you have have symptoms of a lumbar disc here are some exercises you can do at home

Lumbar Disc

 

Surgical Treatment

If conservative treatments don’t resolve your symptoms, your doctor may recommend surgery to repair a herniated lumbar disc.

Recovery

Typically, athletes will gradually recover from lumbar disc herniation over the course of several weeks. During that time, physical therapy exercises will help strengthen your muscles and expedite your full recovery and return to normal activities.

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