The lower (lumbar) spine is naturally strong and flexible, but it’s also one of the most common sources of spine-related pain—in part because of its mobility and flexibility. For this reason, it’s a good idea to develop a better understanding of the anatomy of the lower back for times when you’ll need to be as descriptive as possible about any discomfort you may be experiencing in this area.

The Lordotic Curve

One of the spine’s three natural curves, the lordotic curve is just above the buttocks along the lower portion of the backbone. This inward curve is important because it helps with the following tasks:

• Balancing the weight of the head and upper body
• Evenly distributing upper body weight
• Easing stress on the lower spine

Spinal Bones (Vertebrae)

The lower back contains five vertebrae, or spinal bones. The L1 to L5 vertebrae in the lumbar spine gradually increase in size, which helps them distribute weight evenly. These spinal bones also protect the spinal cord and sensitive nerve tissues.

Spinal Discs

The spinal discs are spongy structures located between the vertebrae. The five intervertebral discs in the lower back act as natural shock absorbers by cushioning the spinal bones. A common source of lower back pain is damage to one or more of these discs. Depending on the severity of the damage, your spine specialist may recommend one of a variety of treatment methods, including spinal fusion surgery. Los Angeles residents with severe lower back pain should see a spinal health specialist as soon as possible for prompt diagnosis and treatment.

Spinal (Facet) Joints

Found in pairs with each vertebra, facet joints link spinal bones together. Lined with protective cartilage, spinal joints allow the lower back to be flexible in different directions while also providing stability. Facet joints in the middle and upper spine help with back-and-forth movements. The ones in the lower back primarily allow for side-to-side movements.

Spine-Supporting Muscles

The lower back has large paired muscles, called erector spinae, that stabilize and support the spine. Extensors, flexors, and obliques are other types of muscles within the lower back area that provide similar support. These muscles also help with twisting and bending movements.

Lower Back Nerves

There are five pairs of spinal nerves in the back that extend from the spinal cord through small holes nestled between the vertebrae. They then branch off to nearby locations, which is why a problem in the lower back that’s affecting nerve roots can cause pain that’s felt elsewhere. Lumbar spine nerves affect movements in and transmit signals to/from the following areas:

• Groin and genital areas
• Legs, knees, and toes
• Thighs and hips
• Outer sides of the lower legs
• Upper parts of the feet plus the first and second toes

The lower back nerves also contribute to the formation of the sciatic nerve, a large nerve that starts in the lower back and moves downward. It’s the largest single nerve in the body.

The Spinal Cord and Nerve Groupings

The spinal cord starts in the brain and ends right around the upper part of the lower back in an area known as the conus medullaris. From this point, spinal nerves continue on and form a group of spinal nerves called the cauda equina. Damage to any of these nerves typically means immediate medical attention is needed.

Watching your posture, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding sugary snacks and other foods that tend to cause inflammation are some of the steps you can take to keep the various parts that make up your lower back healthy and functioning properly. Also, if you experience unusual discomfort stemming from this area, see what your doctor or a spine specialist has to say.

Understanding the basic anatomy of the lower back can help you make lifestyle choices that may prevent lower back pain. If you do experience pain in your lower back, it can often be effectively managed or eliminated when you seek the help of an experienced Los Angeles spine surgeon. The pioneering spine specialists at The Spine Institute have years of experience successfully diagnosing and treating back pain. If you’re experiencing sudden, severe, or lingering pain in your back or neck, call one of our friendly representatives today at 310-828-7757 to schedule a consultation.