A lumbar disc herniation occurs when the protective casing enclosing the disc tears and the gelatinous substances of the disc spill out into the spinal canal. Herniated lumbar discs occur in the lower back, as opposed to cervical disc herniations, which occur in the neck.
The discs of the spine act as shock absorbers in a healthy spine. When one of these discs herniates, it can be quite painful if nearby nerves are irritated. To relieve this pain, there are several treatment options available.
When is Surgery Required for Lumbar Disc Herniations?
Before surgery is considered as a treatment option, your primary care doctor will likely recommend physical therapy, rest, medications and/or injections. In many instances, after 6 weeks the pain will begin to subside and you can return to daily activities.
In the case of serious herniations, however, this pain may persist. Surgery may be recommended if:
- Pain medication and therapy isn’t relieving pain
- Symptoms get progressively worse despite treatment
- You have trouble standing or walking
- You experience numbness or weakness in the legs
While surgery is always a last resort, any of the above symptoms signal a serious condition that will require surgery to rectify the herniation.
Surgery is often necessary as an emergency measure if you lose control of your bowels and urine or develop sudden sensory loss over the genital area. Surgery may also be urgent if you develop sudden and severe weakness or sensory loss in the legs.
Every patient is different, but many patients are able to return to every day activities, even strenuous exercise, after 6 to 8 weeks. Microsurgery allows for both safer surgery and quicker recovery.
The first week after surgery most patients are walking and slowly increasing other activities. After two-three weeks, those with sedentary jobs usually return to work, being careful about their posture. After four weeks, most patients feel back to normal and can return to most day to day activities, including light exercise. As mentioned, after 6 to 8 weeks, a full recovery is possible. Physical therapy can also be initiated to assist with returning to regular activities.
Lumbar disc herniations can be a painful condition. Most cases don’t require surgery, but the most severe herniations may benefit from a lumbar microdiscectomy.
To learn more about the treatment of lumbar disc herniations, read about lumbar disc herniation treatment from Oppenheim and Degen Neurological Surgeons.