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Discectomy Surgery

A discectomy is done to remove a herniated disc from the spinal canal. When a disc herniation occurs, a fragment of the normal spinal disc is dislodged, which may press against the spinal cord or surrounding nerves. This pressure causes symptoms characteristic of herniated discs.

Determining If You're a Candidate for Discectomy

In deciding whether to recommend surgery, your orthopedic surgeon will look for a history of persistent leg pain, weakness, and limitation of daily activities that has not gotten better with at least 4 weeks of nonsurgical treatment. Your surgeon will order diagnostic testing to determine if your herniated disc will respond to surgery. These diagnostic tests may include the following:

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • Computed Tomography (CT)
  • Myelogram

Open vs. Endoscopic Discectomy

The surgical treatment of a herniated disc is to remove the fragment of spinal disc that is causing the pressure on the nerve. The traditional surgery is called an open discectomy. An open discectomy is a procedure where the surgeon uses a small incision and looks at the actual herniated disc in order to remove the disc and relieve the pressure on the nerve. Your surgeon may decide you will benefit most from a procedure called an endoscopic discectomy. In an endoscopic discectomy, instead of actually looking at the herniated disc fragment and removing it, your surgeon uses a small camera to find the fragment and special instruments to remove it.

What to Expect from the Procedure

A discectomy is normally performed under general anesthesia. The procedure takes about an hour, depending on several factors. You will most likely be admitted as an inpatient for a one night stay, although in some cases, it can be done in an outpatient surgical center. Many people awaken from surgery with complete resolution of their leg pain, however, it is not unusual for the pain to slowly dissipate. Most people find relief of much, if not all, of their symptoms from a discectomy.

What to Expect After a Discectomy

After, you will be encouraged to get out of bed and walk as soon as the anesthetic wears off. A member of our physical therapy team will consult with your orthopedic surgeon in order to develop personalized recommendations for you. As you follow the physical therapist’s recommendations and begin your recovery, you must avoid lifting heavy objects, and you should try not to bend or twist the back excessively. Your surgeon will tell you when you are cleared for strenuous activity.


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