Lumbar disc injury causing lower back pain remains one of the most widespread musculoskeletal conditions seen in developing countries with 80% of patients experiencing pain in their lower back at least once in their lifetime.
While far more research needs to be done in developing countries, in a recent review, 62% of participants reported having battled with back pain.
What is the lumbar spine?
Our lumbar spine is made up of five vertebrae, the largest vertebrae of the spinal column. Their structure allows them to bear the majority of the body’s weight while providing strength and flexibility. Between each of these vertebra is an intervertebral disc (shown in the diagram in green).
From day to day, our intervertebral discs work tirelessly to absorb all the stresses of the demands that we put on our bodies. Unfortunately these can be one of the structures in the lumbar region that could lead to lower back pain.
How spinal discs are made up
Each disc is made up of two parts –
- The annulus fibrosis which is composed of robust collagen fibres; and
- The nucleus pulposus, a water- filled, gel-like centre.
The two most common pain-generating disc conditions are (a) a degenerative disc and (b) a herniated disc. You may have heard other terms used, such as a ‘slipped disc’ or a ‘bulging disc’.
The Degenerative Disc
As we get older, we start to notice the changes that our bodies undergo – a new wrinkle, a little less hair and so on. The intervertebral discs are no different. Although we can’t see them, over time the discs will also start to show natural signs of aging. Our intervertebral discs lose water from their centres and this may affect their ability to absorb and distribute the pressure placed on the lumbar spine. This, in turn, places strain on the disc so other structures, such as joints and muscles, may result in pain being felt in the lower back.
The Herniated Disc
Symptoms of disc herniations are experienced mostly among people aged 30-50 years of age and who are more likely to be men. Trauma, injury or mechanical force (sustained, for example, in contact sports) can cause a breakdown of the collagen fibres of the annulus fibrosis, causing the gel-like material of the nucleus pulposus to bulge. In most cases this swelling occurs towards the back section of the vertebrae.
As the spinal nerve root is close to the spinal disc, the protruding material can push on the nerve, causing numbness, pain and tingling to be felt into the leg.
How can Physiotherapy help with Lumbar Disc pain?
- First of all, your physio will assess which lumbar structure could be causing your pain.
- Next they provide therapy on reducing that pain by relieving any muscular spasms or tension.
- It is well known that professional physiotherapy can improve joint mobility and lessen stiffness.
- Part of the treatment will be to help you identify the cause of your pain and also show you how to strengthen the core muscles in your body.
- Finally, a good physiotherapist should give you advice about your posture, as well as guidelines on ergonomic changes in your daily working life.
Tips to help yourself
- You can help strengthen your back and keep yourself free of pain with the simple exercises shown in the chart below. Do the exercises up to ten times each, in sets of three.
- Should you have any concerns about your lower back health, speak to your physiotherapist or one of ours by using the handing appointment form.