Lumbar disc herniation (lower back)

What is a disc prolapse?

Disc prolapse is also known as a rupture or a slipped disc. This can happen anywhere in the spine.

A slipped disc does not actually slip. The disc, which is located between the bones of the spine (vertebrae), splits or ruptures. When this happens, the soft centre substance (nucleus pulposus) leaks out into the spinal canal which contains the nerves that supply the legs. When this happens people can develop sciatica, which is pain running down the legs. Back pain can sometimes be present and also weakness or numbness of the foot may be present.

Sciatica can be of sudden onset and can be quite severe but the majority of people’s symptoms resolve over a period of a few weeks with a combination of conservative treatment such as modification of lifestyle, physiotherapy and painkillers.
In cases where the pain does not resolve surgery is sometimes needed.
What symptoms will I get?
  • Back pain
  • Severe leg pain (known as sciatica)

What can be done?

Not everyone requires surgery. There are a number of non-operative treatments which can be tried first:

  • Painkillers
  • Physiotherapy
  • Injection treatment

When is surgery required?

If sciatica fails to respond to non-operative treatments and a patient continues to be in significant pain, surgery can be contemplated.

This would involve excision of the leaking part of the disc called a ‘discectomy’. This is a minimal operation through a small incision to the lower part of the back. The ruptured part of the disc is excised, leaving the rest of the disc in place.

Patients are normally in hospital for 24-48 hours and can normally return to normal activities within 6 weeks.