Causes Lumbar Disc Herniations

Herniated discs are most common in middle age, especially between ages 35 and 50, due to age-related degenerative disc disease. The loss of fluid in the disc with age reduces its ability to act as a shock absorber and makes it less flexible and thinner, narrowing the distance between the vertebrae. It is not uncommon for tiny tears or cracks to form in the outer anulus forcing out the gel-like material in the center of the disc (nucleus), causing the disc to bulge, break open (rupture), or break into fragments.

A disc herniation only causes symptoms if the bulging or extruded nucleus material begins to press on a nearby spinal nerve or the spinal cord itself and/or the tear results in the release of chemicals causing inflammation.

While age is the leading cause of herniated discs, additional risk factors include: smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle with too little exercise, and engaging in repeated heavy physical work, such as lifting, repetitive sitting or bending, bending sideways, pushing, pulling, and twisting. Jobs that require this type of strenuous activity put people at higher risk for developing disc problems in the lumbar region such as a slipped disc.

Using your back muscles to lift heavy objects, instead of your legs, can cause a herniated disc injury. Twisting while you lift can also make your back vulnerable. Poor posture combined with habitual use of incorrect body mechanics stresses the lumbar spine and affects its ability to carry the bulk of the body weight.

Low back strain, twisting movement or even a sneeze may force nucleus out through the disc's annulus, or tough outer layer, resulting in a bulging disc. Repetitive activities, such as poor lifting habits, prolonged exposure to vibration such as engine vibration when driving a car long distances combined with long periods of sitting, or sports-related injuries, may stress the lower back and result in a bulging disc.