Can a bulging disc in the lumbar spine cause sciatica?

Why a bulging disc in lumbar spine causes sciatica and sciatic nerve pain.

Patients who experience bulging disc lumbar pain — pain in the lower back caused by a bulging disc — could actually be feeling the symptoms of sciatica.

Sciatica is a collection of painful symptoms that result from the compression of the sciatic nerve — the largest nerve in the body — which travels from the lumbar spine to the legs and feet. Sciatica symptoms can include:

  • Radiating pain
  • Numbness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Tingling
  • Burning sensation
  • Difficulty walking
  • Stiffness

The symptoms of sciatica can radiate from the bulging disc in the lumbar spine down through the buttocks and into the legs and feet.

Not all bulging disc lumbar pain is related to sciatica, but it is possible. If you’re experiencing this kind of pain, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss your symptoms and find an effective treatment option for pain relief.

How to treat bulging disc lumbar pain

Whether your bulging disc lumbar pain is related to sciatica or simply a pinched nerve in the lower back, the treatment options remain the same. Your doctor will likely begin your treatment with a combination of two of more of the following conservative methods:

  • Pain medication
  • Physical therapy
  • Chiropractic care
  • Low-impact exercises
  • Weight loss
  • Gentle stretching
  • Corticosteroid injections

These treatments are meant to relieve pressure on the bulging disc in your lumbar spine (lower back), which can relieve the pressure on your pinched nerve. Often, patients will find relief after several months of consistent treatment.

However, some patients may not find relief from nonsurgical bulging disc treatment and may be recommended for spine surgery.

Surgery for bulging disc lumbar pain

Surgery for bulging disc lumbar pain can be performed two ways: traditional open back surgery and minimally invasive spine surgery. Though both options have a different approach to spine surgery, the goal for the procedures remains the same — remove pressure from the bulging disc on the pinched nerve in the lumbar spine.

During a traditional open back surgery, a large incision is made in the lower back and some surrounding muscles may be cut or disconnected. This allows traditional spine surgeons to access the spine and address the bulging disc. Once the bulging disc is reached, a small portion of the damaged disc will be removed to relieve pressure on the pinched nerve. However, this is an invasive process with many disadvantages.

A minimally invasive spine surgery holds many advantages over traditional open back surgery. Instead of requiring a large incision to access the spine, minimally invasive procedures use much smaller incisions — sometimes less than one inch in length. Because the incision is so minimal, the muscles surrounding the spine avoid unnecessary damage and disruption. This offers patients lower risk and a shorter recovery time than what is associated with traditional open back surgery.

Ask your doctor about the surgical options available to you so you can choose the procedure you are most comfortable with.

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