What is a discectomy?

A discectomy is a type of back surgery. The doctor removes herniated (or ruptured) disc material. After the removal of the material, nerves in your spine decompress and no longer cause pain. Surgical decompression is another name of this treatment because it relieves the pressure of the spinal nerves. Doctors can perform a discectomy along the spine from the neck to the lower back.

As the discs in your spine age or an injury happens, they may dry out and become weak. If this happens, the inner material of the disc begins to bulge. The name for this is a ruptured disc. If you have a ruptured disc, it pushes out from the bones and presses on nerves. This results in pain or weakness in your body. You may also have trouble controlling your bladder or bowel movements. Pain medication or physical therapy might not help the condition. Your symptoms may feel worse. You may require surgery to reduce the symptoms. A discectomy is one type of surgery to relieve nerve pressure.

What to expect from a discectomy

There are two ways doctors do a discectomy. One is with a cut directly into your back or neck. The other is a microdiscectomy. This is when the doctor inserts a thin tube with a camera into a small cut in your back or neck. The device can also remove the damaged disc.

During surgery, you can either be awake or fully asleep. You will receive a local anesthetic to prevent pain at the surgical site. Your surgeon makes a small cut near the damaged disc. They then insert small tools into the incision to gently take out the herniated area of the disc. A small bandage closes your incision.

A discectomy is usually an outpatient procedure that doesn't require a hospital stay. You'll probably be able to return home the same day as the procedure. Here are a few tips to heal your incision:

  • Limit lifting.
  • Limit bending.
  • Consider a back brace.
  • Consider physical therapy.
  • Take pain medication for discomfort.

In a short time, the pain lessens considerably, and you should be back to your daily activities within about a week. It can take several months for your pain to disappear.

Common conditions requiring discectomy

Doctors do discectomies to repair herniated discs in your neck. Before choosing this surgery, your doctor may have you do non-surgical treatments. These include taking pain medications and doing physical therapy.

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