Discectomy, Microdiscectomy and Herniated Discs

Herniated discs, one of the more common spinal injuries, occur when an intervertebral disc’s outer, fibrous ring fractures, allowing for the soft center (nucleus pulposus) of the disc to leak out through the cracks. This condition can irritate neighboring spinal nerves and cause pain in the back and the limbs. Several surgical options are available to correct this injury.

Discectomy

A discectomy is a surgical procedure that removes the damaged portions of a herniated disc from the spine, relieving any irritation, numbness, or pain that the disc may have caused. Before your surgeon removes the damaged parts, he or she may also remove a small piece of vertebrate bone in order to more clearly see and access the affected disc.

Microdiscectomy

During a microdiscectomy, the surgeon makes a small incision near the affected area and inserts a small microscope or magnifying device in order to assess and diagnose the herniated disc. Because this instrument provides a clear view of the damage, the surgeon does not have to make bigger incisions in the skin and soft tissue to get to the affected disc.

Before your doctor diagnoses the herniated disc and recommends surgery, he or she will recommend diagnostic imaging tests like X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans to confirm that the disc is ruptured and needs to be operated upon. During surgery, the surgeon will remove the obtrusive part of the disc that protrudes into adjacent nerves and tissue. If necessary, your surgeon can also remove any bone fragments that may have come loose as a result of the fractured disc.

Benefits of Surgery

Discectomies and microdiscectomies reduce the pain, numbness, and irritation caused by a herniated disc pressing up against surrounding spinal nerves and soft tissues. A sample study of 500 patients who received surgical treatment for herniated discs revealed that 70% noticed major improvement in pain level, flexibility, and mobility even five years after operation.

After surgery, going about daily activities becomes much easier, as do basic movements like walking, bending, and stretching. The procedure also helps eliminate and numbness, tingling sensations, or potential nerve damage.

Risks

Discectomies and microdiscectomies come with potential risks, like any medical procedure. The most common ones, most of them rare, include:

  • Tissue infection
  • Blood clots (vein thrombosis)
  • Blockage of blood flow to the lungs (embolus)
  • Complications from or allergic reactions to the general anesthetic used during surgery

Recovery

After surgery, your doctor will encourage you to stand up and walk around in order to encourage healthful blood flow and decrease the risk of scar tissue formation. Sitting will likely be uncomfortable for the first several weeks, and most post-op patients avoid sitting for more than 15 to 20 minutes at a time.

Walking should be your primary form of exercise for the first 2 to 4 weeks following surgery in order to regulate heart rate and blood flow without putting too much strain on the spine. After this period, you can integrate swimming and bicycling into your exercise routine. You can normally return to work after 2 to 4 weeks; however, if your job requires physical labor or any sort of strenuous physical activity, you should wait 4 to 8 weeks before returning.