Osteochondrosis of the lumbar spine

Osteochondrosis is a chronic degenerative dystrophic disease that develops under the influence of many rather disparate factors. Initially, the pathological changes occur in the nucleus pulposus (the inner contents of the intervertebral disc), and subsequently extend to the annulus fibrosus (the outer covering of the disc) and other elements of the spinal motion segment (SDS). This may be a consequence of the body's natural aging process, or it may occur against the background of injuries, increased load on the spine, and other causes. In any case, osteochondrosis is only the first stage of the destruction of the intervertebral disc, and if left untreated, bulges and hernias form, often requiring surgical removal.

The intervertebral disc is a cartilage formation that separates the vertebral bodies and acts as a shock absorber.

Osteochondrosis of the lumbar spine

Osteochondrosis of the lumbar area: what is it

From osteochondrosis suffers from 48 to 52% of people. And osteochondrosis of the lumbar spine is the most common. The disease can affect any of the intervertebral discs of the lumbosacral spine, several or even all of them. Most often, L5-S1, L4-L5 discs suffer, less often L3-L4. The upper lumbar discs (L3-L2 and L2-L1) are affected much less frequently.

The prevalence of lumbar osteochondrosis is due to the fact that the greatest load in performing any physical work, especially lifting and carrying weights, walking, running, sitting, falls on the lower back. The lumbar spine consists of 5 vertebrae, which are much larger than the thoracic and cervical vertebrae. Consequently, the intervertebral discs that separate them are larger. Normally, the lumbar region has a slight anterior curvature (physiological lordosis). It is the last mobile part of the spinal column and is adjacent to the fixed sacrum, which is why lumbosacral osteochondrosis is most often spoken of.

If earlier osteochondrosis was considered an age-related disease, today its first manifestations can already be observed at 15-19 years of age. Among thirty-somethings, already 1. 1% of people suffer from severe symptoms of degenerative-dystrophic changes in the intervertebral discs. And in representatives of the older age group (from 59 years old), the clinical manifestations of the disease are already present in 82. 5%. At the same time, the incidence of the pathology continues to grow steadily, which is largely due not only to the increase in the average age of the country's population, but also to changes in lifestyle that are not for the better. .

Reasons for development

Today, there is still no consensus on the etiology of degenerative diseases of the spine. However, the main theory of its development is involutionary. According to her, osteochondrosis is a consequence of previous damage to the intervertebral disc and bone structures of the spine, as well as the appearance of inflammatory and other processes. Theory suggests that degenerative changes are genetically predetermined and, in fact, unavoidable. And its clinical manifestation, especially in young and middle-aged people, is due to the influence of various endogenous and exogenous factors.

Thus, the development of osteochondrosis of the lumbar spine is facilitated by:

  • heavy physical labor, especially associated with heavy lifting;
  • sedentary, sedentary lifestyle;
  • any back injury, including bruises;
  • over weight;
  • metabolic disorders;
  • violations of posture, deformation of the spine;
  • flat feet and other pathologies of the foot;
  • pregnancy, especially multiple pregnancy.
A sedentary lifestyle contributes to the development of osteochondrosis of the lumbar spine.


Regardless of the causes, the degeneration of the intervertebral disc occurs when the intensity of the processes of catabolism (cleavage and oxidation of molecules) of the matrix proteins begins to exceed the speed of their formation. One of the key points in this process is the malnutrition of the intervertebral discs.

Since, like most cartilage in an adult, they do not have a direct blood supply, since they lack blood vessels, the supply of nutrients to them and the removal of metabolic products occurs by diffusion with sequential compression and relaxation of the disc during movementThe main structure that provides power to the disk are the end plates located on its top and bottom surfaces.

By themselves, the endplates are a bilayer made up of cartilage cells and bone tissue. Consequently, the cartilaginous side are adjacent to the disc, and to the bone, to the vertebral bodies. They are distinguished by sufficiently good permeability, which ensures the exchange of substances between the cells, the intercellular substance of the disc and the blood vessels passing through the vertebral bodies. Over the years, especially with the negative impact of external and internal factors, the structure of the end plates changes and their blood supply decreases, which leads to a decrease in the intensity of metabolism in the intervertebral disc. As a result, its ability to produce new matrix is reduced, leading to a progressive decrease in its density with age.

At the molecular level, this is accompanied by:

  • a decrease in the rate of diffusion of nutrients and metabolic products;
  • decreased cell viability;
  • accumulation of cell breakdown products and altered matrix molecules;
  • a decrease in the production of proteoglycans (high molecular weight compounds responsible for the formation of new cartilage cells and which are the main sources of chondroitin sulfate synthesis);
  • collagen scaffold damage.

Possible consequences

As a result of the ongoing changes, the intervertebral disc dehydrates, and the nucleus pulposus loses its ability to properly distribute the loads that fall on it. Therefore, the pressure inside the disc becomes uneven, and therefore the annulus fibrosus in various places experiences overload and compression. Since this happens with every movement of a person, the ring is regularly subjected to mechanical pressure. This leads to adverse changes in it.

In addition, a decrease in disc height and elasticity often leads to compensatory changes in the adjacent vertebral bodies. On their surfaces, bony growths called osteophytes form. They tend to increase in size over time and even merge with each other, excluding the possibility of movement in the affected PDS.

Due to the fact that malnutrition leads to damage to the collagen skeleton, under the influence of the pressure of the nucleus pulposus at certain points, the normal structure of the fibers that make up the fibrous ring is disturbed. In the absence of intervention, this eventually leads to cracks and breaks in them. Gradually, more and more fibers of the annulus fibrosus break at the site of pressure application, leading to its protrusion. This is especially facilitated by the increased loads on the spine. And since the lumbar region takes on the main load during movement and any physical activity, it suffers most often.

The protrusion of the intervertebral disc without the final rupture of the annulus fibrosus and with the size of its base greater than the protruding part is called a protrusion. With its complete rupture in one place or another, an intervertebral hernia is diagnosed.

With the destruction of part of the fibers of the fibrous ring, the pressure on the disc gradually decreases, which leads to a decrease in tension and the fibers themselves. This leads to a violation of its fixation and, as a result, to pathological mobility of the affected spinal movement segment.

The vertebral motor segment (SMS) is a structural and functional unit of the spine formed by the intervertebral disc, adjacent vertebral bodies, their facet joints, ligaments and muscles attached to these bony structures.

Normal operation of the column is only possible with the correct operation of the PDS.

Symptoms of osteochondrosis of the lumbar spine.

The disease can be asymptomatic for a long time, and then begin to manifest as mild discomfort in the lumbar region, gradually gaining strength. But in some cases, osteochondrosis of the lower back begins acutely, immediately provoking a powerful pain syndrome. In most cases, signs of pathology first appear after the age of 35.

Back pain is the main symptom of the disease. It can have a different character and be aching and dull, and sharp, constant or episodic. But basically for pathology, especially in the early stages of development, the alternation of periods of exacerbation and remission is characteristic, and both hypothermia or lifting a heavy object, as well as a sudden unsuccessful movement can provoke another deterioration in well-being.

The pain is often accompanied by a feeling of numbness and tension in the back muscles. They are aggravated by physical exertion, sudden movements, lifting heavy objects, bending over, and even coughing and sneezing.

The main symptom of osteochondrosis of the lumbar spine is low back pain.

If, due to the instability of the vertebral bodies, the nerve root extending from the spinal cord is pinched by one or another anatomical structure, this will lead to the development of appropriate neurological disorders. Its main manifestations are:

  • sharp, stabbing pain radiating to the sacrum, buttocks, lower limbs, or perineum;
  • sensitivity disorders of varying severity;
  • mobility restrictions, limp;
  • weakness in the muscles innervated by the pinched nerve.

In the lumbar spine, the spinal cord ends at the level of 1-2 vertebrae and passes into the so-called cauda equina, formed by an accumulation of spinal roots. In addition, each of them is responsible not only for the innervation of the muscles, but also for specific organs of the small pelvis, therefore prolonged compression can cause disturbances in the work of the corresponding organ. This can lead to the development of impotence, infertility, gynecological diseases, hemorrhoids and other disorders.

The clinical picture of osteochondrosis of the lumbar spine, especially with a prolonged course and the appearance of compression of the spinal roots, largely depends on the level of injury, that is, which particular disc has undergone degenerative-dystrophic changes.

  • The defeat of the L3-L4 disc - the pain is given in the inner anterior parts of the thigh, lower leg and inner ankle. This is accompanied by a decreased sensation of the anterior surface of the thigh, a decrease in gravity or loss of the patellar reflex, as well as a decrease in the strength of the quadriceps muscle.
  • The defeat of the L4-L5 disc - pain is given from the upper part of the buttocks to the outer parts of the thigh and lower leg. Less often, this is accompanied by the spread of pain to the back of the feet, including 1-3 toes. In these areas there is a decrease in sensitivity and muscle weakness. Hypotrophy and incomplete extension of the big toe sometimes develop.
  • L5-S1 Disc Damage: Pain begins in the mid-buttocks and runs down to the heel along the posterior or posterior surface of the thigh and lower leg and may capture the outer edge of the foot, such as 4-5 fingers. In these areas of the lower extremities, there is a decrease in sensitivity, and the gastrocnemius and gluteus maximus often decrease in size, which is accompanied by their weakness. If the spinal root passing through this PDS is affected, a decrease or loss of the Achilles and plantar reflexes may be observed.

The L1-L2 and L2-L3 discs are rarely affected.

Discs of the lumbar spine, which are most often affected in osteochondrosis.

The pain that accompanies the disease restricts a person and significantly reduces the quality of his life. Since they persist for a long time and regularly recur, if they are not constantly present, then this cannot but affect the psycho-emotional state. As a result, more than half of the patients show signs of chronic emotional stress, depressive disorders, etc.


If there are signs of osteochondrosis of the lumbar spine, you should contact a neurologist or vertebrologist. First of all, the doctor collects an anamnesis, which consists in clarifying the nature of the complaints, the characteristics of the pain, the conditions for its appearance and reduction, the features of a person's working life, etc.

The second stage of diagnosis, performed as part of the first consultation with a doctor, is a physical examination. During it, the doctor assesses the condition of the skin, posture, the depth of the physiological curves of the spine, the presence of its curvature, etc. The condition of the muscles surrounding the spine, called paravertebral, is necessarily evaluated, as they are often painful and too tight, which is a reflex reaction of the body to inflammation and discogenic pain.

Already on the basis of the data obtained during the examination and questioning of the patient, the neurologist may suspect the presence of osteochondrosis of the lumbar spine. But in order to exclude possible concomitant pathologies, as well as to confirm the diagnosis and accurately determine the level of damage, the severity of degenerative-dystrophic changes in the intervertebral disc and the involvement of bone structures, instrumental and diagnostic methods of diagnosis are required. laboratory.

Neurologist explains the features of the treatment of diseases of the spine

laboratory diagnosis

Analyzes of various types are not decisive in the diagnosis of osteochondrosis of the lumbar spine. They are more aimed at assessing the degree of the inflammatory process and the detection of concomitant disorders.

Thus, you can assign:

  • UAC;
  • OAM;
  • blood test for sugar level;
  • blood chemistry.

Instrumental diagnosis

It is shown that all patients with suspected osteochondrosis of the lumbar spine have:

  • x-ray of the lumbar spine in two projections - allows you to determine the structure of bone structures, detect abnormalities, formed osteophytes, changes in the facet joints, etc . ;
  • CT - allows you to detect changes in bone structures at earlier stages of development than X-rays, as well as identify indirect signs of osteochondrosis;
  • Magnetic resonance imaging is the best method for diagnosing pathological changes in cartilage formations and other soft tissue structures, making it possible to detect the slightest changes in the intervertebral discs, ligaments, blood vessels and spinal cord and to accurately assess their severity and potential risks.
Magnetic resonance imaging for diagnostic purposes in case of suspected osteochondrosis of the lumbar spine

In addition, it can be recommended to:

  • densitometry - a method of determining bone density, which makes it possible to diagnose osteoporosis, which is especially common in the elderly;
  • myelography - allows you to assess the state of the CSF pathways of the spinal cord and the degree of damage to the protruding disc, which is especially important in the presence of an already formed intervertebral hernia of the lumbar spine.

Treatment of lumbar osteochondrosis

When diagnosing osteochondrosis, as a rule, all patients are initially prescribed conservative therapy, provided that there is no pronounced and progressive neurological deficit. But his character is selected strictly individually.

Since the disease is chronic and the regenerative abilities of the intervertebral discs are extremely limited, especially with pronounced dystrophic-degenerative changes, the main goals of therapy are to stop its progression and eliminate the symptoms that disturb the patient. Therefore, the treatment is always complex and includes:

  • drug therapy;
  • manual therapy;
  • physiotherapy;
  • exercise therapy

In the acute period, patients are shown to limit physical activity or even adhere to bed rest for 1-2 days. This will help relax the muscles and reduce the pressure inside the disc. If you need to sit, walk, or do physical labor for a long time, you should wear a stabilizing lumbar corset.

Stabilizing lumbar corset for exacerbation of osteochondrosis of the lumbar spine

After the end of the acute period and during the remission of the disease, on the contrary, it is important to move as much as possible, but with caution and excluding increased stress on the lower back. Patients will need to acquire the skills to sit correctly, lift objects from the floor, carry heavy loads, since all this affects the course of the pathology. It is important to avoid tilting and sudden movements, lifting something from the ground or low surfaces, after bending the knees and not bending over. You should only sit up straight in a chair that supports your back well. Also, during sedentary work, it is important to take regular breaks for a short workout. It is important to avoid falls, jumps, fast runs and hypothermia.

With osteochondrosis, it is important to maintain body weight within optimal limits, and for obesity, a diet and physical exercises appropriate to the patient's condition are indicated, since excess weight creates a greater load on the lower part of the back and causes a more rapid progression of pathological changes in the discs

On average, conservative therapy is usually designed for 1 to 3 months, although it can last longer. But even after completing the main course prescribed by the doctor, it will be necessary to continue taking a series of medications, exercise therapy, and follow lifestyle recommendations.

medical therapy

The main components of drug therapy are individually selected drugs from the group of NSAIDs. When choosing them, the doctor takes into account not only the severity of the pain syndrome and the course of the inflammatory process, but also the nature of concomitant diseases, especially of the digestive tract, since NSAIDs with prolonged use can negatively affect the state of their mucous membranes and provoke an exacerbation of various pathologies of the digestive system.

It is necessary to use NSAIDs for acute pain in the lower back and immediately after its appearance. Preferably in 1-2 days. Depending on the severity of the patient's condition, they can be administered intramuscularly, in the form of rectal suppositories, local agents and oral forms. The duration of admission should not exceed 2 weeks. In the future, an individually selected drug is taken on demand, but trying to avoid frequent use.

Recently, preference is more often given to drugs, as an active ingredient, which include selective inhibitors of cyclooxygenase-2.

In addition, patients are prescribed drugs from the following groups:

  • muscle relaxants - help to relax overly tense muscles and thus reduce back pain;
  • chondroprotectors - improve the course of metabolic processes in the intervertebral disc (especially effective when started in the early stages of development of lumbar osteochondrosis);
  • B vitamins: help improve nerve conduction;
  • antidepressants and anxiolytics - used for long-term osteochondrosis, which led to depression, chronic fatigue and other psychological disorders.

In the face of very intense pain, especially of neurological origin, therapeutic blocks are performed. They involve the introduction of anesthetics in combination with corticosteroids at points close to the compressed nerve, which leads to the rapid elimination of pain. But the procedure can only be performed in a medical institution by specially trained health workers, since it is associated with a risk of complications.

Manual therapy

Manual therapy allows not only to improve the quality of blood circulation in the area of influence, but also to significantly reduce the severity and duration of pain in osteochondrosis. Effectively relieves muscle tension and allows functional blockages to be removed, which significantly increases mobility in the affected SMS.

In addition, through well-conducted manual therapy, it is possible not only to increase the distance between the vertebrae, return them to their anatomically correct position, but also to release compressed nerve roots. As a result, the pain is quickly eliminated, and neurological disorders disappear. It also reduces the likelihood of complications and disorders in the work of internal organs.

Manual therapy session to relieve pain and muscle tension in lumbar osteochondrosis

Additional positive properties of manual therapy are improving mood, strengthening immunity, activating the body's natural recovery mechanisms and increasing efficiency. Usually after the first session there is a noticeable improvement in well-being, and in the future the effect becomes more pronounced. As a rule, the course consists of 8-15 sessions, and it is important to complete it to the end, even with complete normalization of well-being.


After the subsidence of acute inflammation, courses of physiotherapeutic procedures are indicated, which not only help reduce pain, but also improve microcirculation, nutrition and the course of repair processes in the area of degenerative changes- dystrophic. Most often, patients are prescribed:

  • electrophoresis with the introduction of drugs;
  • electrical neuromyostimulation;
  • ultrasound therapy;
  • laser therapy;
  • magnet therapy;
  • UHF.

Which specific methods of physiotherapy will give the best effect, the frequency of their implementation, the duration of the course and the possibility of combining with other types of exposure is determined individually for each patient.

Magnetotherapy is indicated for osteochondrosis of the lumbar spine

Traction therapy gives very good results in osteochondrosis of the lumbar spine. Thanks to him, it is possible to achieve an increase in the distance between the vertebral bodies, which instantly reduces the load on the affected discs. After the session, to consolidate the results, the patient must wear an orthopedic corset.

exercise therapy

After the elimination of acute pain, the treatment program is necessarily supplemented with exercise therapy. Its main tasks are to stretch the spine and relax the spasmodic muscles of the lower back. Also, therapeutic exercises help to strengthen the muscle corset, create reliable support for the spine, improve posture. In the course of this, blood circulation is inevitably activated and metabolic processes are improved, which has a beneficial effect on the nutrition of the discs.

For each patient, a set of exercises is selected individually in accordance with the degree of degenerative-dystrophic changes, the level of physical development of the patient, the nature of concomitant disorders, age and other factors. Initially, it is recommended to study under the guidance of an experienced exercise therapy instructor.

All patients with degenerative changes in the spine are recommended to visit the pool 2-3 times a week, since swimming lessons minimize the load on the spine, but allow you to effectively strengthen the back muscles.

Therefore, osteochondrosis of the lumbar spine is one of the most common diseases. At the same time, it can deprive a person of the ability to work for a long time, and even lead to disability due to the development of complications. Therefore, it is important not to ignore the first symptoms of the disease, when it is easier to treat. With the appearance of pain, and even more so numbness, limited mobility, back pain, you should contact a neurologist as soon as possible, undergo the necessary examination and start treatment. In this case, it will be possible to stop the pathological process and return to a normal, full life without pain and significant restrictions.