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The Backache Disc & When to See a Doctor

March 14, 2005 12:44 PM

By Jim Brown, Ph.D., Executive Editor, Sports Performance Journal (athletesperformance.com)

The disc between lumbar vertebra 4 and lumbar vertebra 5 (L4, L5) has been called the backache disc. It is a frequent source of back pain symptoms, especially when it bulges out (herniates). This disc is part of a joint segment that plays an important role in absorbing shock. It is also subject to mechanical stresses that are not placed on other segments to the same degree.

Here is one explanation of why L4 and L5 are a problem for recreational and serious athletes: The two vertebrae are located at a point where a mobile segment (the spine) and an immobile segment (the sacrum and pelvis) meet. That's where the force of many sports movements is concentrated. There is a flexible segment above the disc and a more rigid segment below it, which causes the concentration to be magnified more than it is in other areas of the spine.

Because of the vulnerability of L4, L5, and the disc in between, it is important to stretch and strengthen the surrounding area. The knees-to-chest stretch is one exercise effective in relieving the pressure placed on L4, L5.

When to See a Doctor
How do you know when a back injury is serious enough to seek medical attention? Here are some warning signs:
• moderate to severe back pain that persists longer than one week
• unexplained fever that accompanies back pain
• redness or swelling on the back or spine
• pain, weakness, or numbness that radiates down the legs
• pain caused by a traumatic injury received during sports competition or while exercising
Any back injury that results in a loss of feeling, numbness, or weakness in the lower extremities needs to receive immediate medical attention. In these cases, the injured athlete should not be moved except by qualified medical personnel.

© 2004 HMS Publishing, Inc.
Jim Brown will be contributing new content to this site on a monthly basis. If you have a question for Dr. Brown please feel free to email him at




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