The lumbar spine, also known as your low back, is made up of vertebrae starting from the L1 vertebra to the L5. The vertebrae are small bones that make up your entire spine. These small bones are connected and create a canal that encases and protects the spinal cord.
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The spine is made up of sections — the cervical spine, the thoracic spine and the lumbar spine, then the sacrum and coccyx bones. The vertebrae in the lumbar spine are larger than those in the thoracic or cervical spine since they are responsible for supporting more of your weight, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).
The muscles and ligaments in your back and upper body provide support and help to connect your vertebrae, providing stability. In between your vertebrae are discs that are flat and circular, measuring about a half an inch thick. You can think of these disks as being similar to the shock absorbers on your car. They help to provide mobility yet maintain stability and strength for your spine, says the AAOS.
How Lumbar Spine Injuries Occur
These vertebral discs contain many nerve endings and, when injured, can cause quite a lot of pain. A herniated disc can occur anywhere along the spinal column, but the lower back is the most typical area of injury, says the AAOS.
If you experience pain that starts in your lower back and radiates down your leg, often called sciatica, a disc herniation is typically the culprit. These injuries can be due to a fall or incorrect lifting form, such as when you are moving something or lifting weights and twist your back in the wrong way or lift using your back more than your legs.
Certain occupations that require a lot of lifting, bending, twisting and pulling motions, as well as those that necessitate a lot of driving, and not getting regular exercise or smoking are also reasons why you could be more at risk for disc herniation, explains the AAOS.
A January 2015 article published in Evolution, Medicine, & Public Health explains that while 85 percent of lower back pain has no apparent cause, 97 percent of cases may be due to musculoskeletal issues.
These issues can occur due to age or people with extra pressure placed on their lower spine, such as for individuals who have overweight or are pregnant. This pressure can cause excessive shearing force and spinal compression between the lumbar vertebrae and lead to muscle strains, disc herniation, inflammation and joint capsule pain along with other conditions.
If you feel that you may have a herniated disc or if you have any low back pain, it is worth checking it out with your doctor. Your doctor can check to see if you have any symptoms that may indicate a deeper problem.
Non-surgical treatment options include resting, taking frequent breaks, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen or naproxen, going to physical therapy or receiving asteroidal injection around the nerve to reduce inflammation.
Often these injuries will heal on their own after a few weeks or months, even if they are very painful. Surgery is not usually necessary, according to the AAOS.
Read more: How to Stretch the L3 of The Lumbar Spine
Herniated Disc Exercises
Exercises can also help to alleviate back pain. Although fast results cannot be guaranteed, an August 2013 article published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy recommends a phased rehabilitation protocol for athletes with lumbar vertebral disc herniation.
It is important to note that this protocol was supervised and prescribed by a medical professional to be carried out in a particular order and time frame. The following exercises were some of those provided in the report. However, it is crucial to seek medical advice before performing any of these exercises.
Move 1: Prone Press-Up
- Lie on your stomach with your face down and elbows tucked to your sides, hands placed flat on the floor slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Press your hands into the floor and straighten your arms to raise your upper back off the ground. Relax your stomach muscles as you do this, allowing your back to arch.
- Be sure that your low back, hips and pelvis are relaxed as you are arching up. Your hips and pelvis should not come off the floor.
Move 2: Hip Hinge
- With your spine in a neutral position, stand upright and place one hand on your stomach and the other on your low back. Brace your abdominals as if you were about to prepare for a hit in the stomach.
- Sit your hips back and hinge forward, sticking your bum out while maintaining a straight back.
- Drive your hips forward to return to the starting position.
Move 3: Side-Lying Abduction
This exercise is recommended in the report to help strengthen the hip abductors, particularly the gluteus medius to improve pelvic stability and prevent and rehabilitate a back injury.
- Lie on the floor on one side, resting your head on your arm, folded under your head.
- Keep your feet together, with a slight bend in your knees, and lift your top leg so that your knees come apart. Keep your hips still.
- Lower your leg back down slowly and with control.
Move 4: Bilateral Bridge
- Lie on your back and place your heels on the floor with your knees bent.
- With a neutral spine (no big arch in your back), brace your abdominals and squeeze your glutes.
- Press your heels into the ground, contracting your glutes, and lift your bum and lower back off the floor. Return to the starting position.
- Be sure to maintain your abdominal bracing while you perform the entire movement.
Read more: The Best Exercises for Lower Back Pain
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Herniated Disk in the Lower Back"
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Spine Basics"
- Evolution, Medicine, & Public Health: "Lower Back Pain"
- International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy: "A Phased Rehabilitation Protocol for Athletes With Lumbar Intervertebral Disc Herniation"