Percutaneous Discectomies

A percutaneous discectomy is a type of surgical procedure that treats damaged herniated disc material in the spinal area. A percutaneous, meaning “through the skin,” discectomy is unique in that it requires several small incisions around the affected area in order for the surgeon to use small surgical instruments. With this method, the surgeon can access the small area between the vertebrae and the affected disc in order to stop any pressure against the spinal cord to nerve roots.

Unlike other discectomies, a percutaneous discectomy does not directly remove the damaged disc material by lifting it out; rather, the surgeon will vacuum out the leaking center of the herniated disc or use lasers to burn or evaporate the center of the disc. During the procedure, the surgeon will use X-ray monitoring of the area to guide the procedure and see precisely where the damaged areas are.

Percutaneous discectomies are nominally less effective at reducing pain and numbness than standard discectomies are, but the lack of large incisions during the procedure means fewer stitches, less risk of infection, and the likelihood of a quicker recovery.

Should I Have a Percutaneous Discectomy?

A percutaneous discectomy may be a good treatment option for your herniated disc if:

  • Pain is severe and constant
  • Legs begin to weaken or lose feeling
  • Physical coordination and balance becomes difficult
  • Nonsurgical treatment does not yield results within
  • A physical exam and imaging tests show that the herniated disc is bulging or pressing against a neighboring nerve

A percutaneous discectomy may not be for you if:

  • A CT scan or MRI reveals fragments of disc material in the spinal canal
  • You suffer from a narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis)


Percutaneous discectomies are routine and generally outpatient treatments, so patients can normally return home the same day as the surgery. Your doctor may prescribe medication to cope with any post-op pain or swelling. Avoid sitting for long periods of time, as this will be uncomfortable and may decrease healthful blood flow to the affected disc, and avoid motions like bending or twisting that could cause bleeding or rupture.