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Lumbar Disc Disease (cont.)

When to Seek Medical Care for Lumbar Disc Disease

Most adults will have an episode or multiple episodes of low back pain during their lives. Most of these episodes do not require a visit to the doctor. The majority of low back pain resolves without any treatment or with over-the-counter medications and a short period of rest.

However, any person with the "red flag symptoms" (the warning signs listed above) should be evaluated by a doctor.

Questions to Ask the Doctor

  • Are there any physical therapy programs or exercises that might help my symptoms?
  • Would I benefit from surgery? This should only be a concern if pain has not improved with conservative treatment. Surgical options to discuss with the doctor include lumbar decompression, lumbar fusion, and lumbar disc replacement. If considering surgery, discuss the risks and benefits of each of these surgical interventions with the surgeon.

Lumbar Disc Disease Exams and Tests

A doctor first takes a complete medical history to determine what the symptoms are, when they began, what treatment has already been attempted, and what other medical conditions might be present.

Next, a complete physical exam with a focused exam of the lower back is performed. This includes evaluating the strength in the lower back and leg muscles as well as testing the reflexes and sensation in the legs.

Since most cases of low back pain resolve spontaneously without a specific diagnosis, the doctor may not initially order any other tests.

Imaging studies may include plain X-rays films, CT scans, or MRI of the lumbar spine. These imaging studies need to be interpreted carefully since many people have normal changes seen in these studies as they age, without having physical symptoms. Any diagnosis should be based on specific findings from the history and physical exam that are supported by imaging studies.

If a suspicion of infection, tumor, or inflammatory disorder arises, blood tests may be performed for further evaluation.

A doctor may also order tests to determine if the nerves in the back are being compressed. These tests include EMGs (electromyogram, a test that records the activity of muscles) or nerve conduction studies.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/9/2015

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