Lumbar Disc Herniation

What is lumbar disc herniation?

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Lumbar disc herniation (disc bulging/ruptured disc) is a common disorder of the spine that can lead to back and/or leg pain. The herniated disc, or displaced disc, can compress a nerve exiting the spine (branch of the spinal cord). When disc herniation leads to compression of an exiting nerve, this condition is referred to as radiculopathy.

Why rely on Washington University experts for the treatment of lumbar disc herniation?

Our neurosurgeons have extensive training and expertise using both open and minimally invasive techniques to treat disc herniation.

We also have the latest technology to treat our patients including:

  • Intraoperative CT scan and navigation systems
  • State-of-the-art neuroimaging
  • CyberKnife radiosurgery

Lumbar disc herniation treatments

Most lumbar disc herniations, while initially associated with quite severe pain, will heal spontaneously with time and conservative treatments. Bedrest, anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy are often tried before referral to a spine surgeon. Epidural injections for pain control are quite helpful as well.

However, a small number of disc herniations will not heal with conservative treatments, and surgery may be indicated. Surgery is typically recommended when symptoms do not respond to conservative options, when a patient has a progressive weakness, or when the pain is so severe that it interferes with conservative options.

Rarely, a large disc herniation can cause cauda equina syndrome, a disorder that affects the bundle of nerve roots (caudal equina) at the lower end of the spinal cord. This can result in loss of bowel or bladder control and marked weakness. This is a surgical emergency and patients with these symptoms should proceed directly to their local emergency room for evaluation.

Surgery, when recommended for lumbar disc herniation, is often a limited operation, with same-day or overnight stay surgeries.