What is discogenic lower back pain?

The lumbar spine is the lower portion of the spine that is situated just above the pelvis and hips. It consists of bones called vertebrae, and discs that sit in between the bones absorbing shock and allowing movement to occur.

Each disc is made of an outer ring of fibres called the annulus and a flexible nucleus in the middle – this nucleus is similar to toothpaste in consistency.

How is a disc injured?

Injury can occur to the outer ring of the disc in two ways:

  • Repetitive stress –  from poor posture or lots of bending/lifting (e.g. when driving)
  • Sudden movement – twisting while lifting even something light

Repetitive bending and lifting causes stretching of the outer ring at the back of the disc.

This stretching allow some of the nucleus material to push through (sometimes called a disc bulge, slipped disc or herniation), causing pain and sometimes placing pressure on spinal nerve roots.

As the spinal nerves in the lumbar spine supply the leg, some people may experience pain radiating into their groin, leg or down the back of their thigh (even into the feet in some cases).

Pressure on these nerves may also cause other symptoms such as pins and needles or numbness.

Why does it hurt to bend or sit?

When you bend over or sit in a slouched posture your spine bends forwards. The vertebrae move closer together at the front (compressing the front of the disc) and further apart at the back. This movement further stretches the irritated disc and therefore causes more pain.

How is a disc bulge treated?

There are a number of things your physiotherapist may do to help alleviate your symptoms such as:

  • Massage
  • Supportive taping
  • Advice to avoid bending and lifting
  • Prescribe a lumbar support for sitting
  • Mobility and strengthening exercises