Discectomy: Definition, Reasons, Risks, Preparation, and Procedure
What is a discectomy?
A discectomy is a surgical operation done on your spine to relieve the symptoms of a herniated or bulging disc. When a spinal disc herniates, the protruding portion of it can pinch or compress the nerves around it. This can cause weakness, numbness or pain in your back, and the pain can also follow the path of the nerve, radiating down your legs or arms. A discectomy removes the portion of the disc that is damaged or bulging.
Discectomy works best for the pain that radiates away from the back, down into either the arms or the legs. It is not as helpful for relieving pain centered in the back or neck. The majority of patients who have pain in the neck or back find more relief with non-surgical treatments such as physical therapy and medications for pain.
If non-surgical treatments haven't been successful in relieving your pain, or if your symptoms continue to get worse, your doctor may recommend discectomy. There are several different methods used to perform the discectomy. One technique that is minimally invasive involves small incisions and a minuscule camera.
Reasons for Discectomy
A disc herniates when a crack or tear develops in the tough outer rim and some of the gel-like centers of the disc escapes through the crack or tear. This gel-like material takes up space in the spinal canal, placing pressure on the nearby spinal nerve or the spinal cord itself. A discectomy is a surgical procedure that is done to take the pressure off the nerves or spinal cord by removing part or all of the herniated disc. Herniated discs are sometimes called slipped discs, ruptured or bulging discs, or prolapsed discs.
Your physician might advise discectomy if:
- Nerve weakness has progressed to the point you have difficulty walking or standing
- After six weeks of non-surgical treatment, such as physical therapy, your symptoms are not improving
- A fragment of a disc becomes lodged in the spinal cord and is compressing a nerve
- The pain radiating into your arms, chest, legs or buttocks is no longer manageable
Risks of Discectomy
Discectomy is considered to be a safe operation. Just like any surgery, there is a risk of complications occurring during a discectomy. Possible complications include the following:
- Spinal fluid leaking
- Damage to nerves or blood vessels around and in the spine
- Damage to the protective layer of tissues that surround the spine