What Should Patients Know About Discectomy and Microdiscectomy?

Pain relief after discectomy/microdiscectomy

Pain relief after discectomy/microdiscectomy

Pressure applied to nerve roots or numbness of the extremities can be caused by a herniated disc or neural impingement. Depending on the severity of the obstruction to the nerves, your surgeon at South Florida Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine will recommend either a discectomy or a microdiscectomy to remove the obstruction and create a healing environment in the nerve root.

Your surgeon will propose nonsurgical options to relieve the pressure placed on the nerves. When conservative treatment methods have been unsuccessful, a discectomy or a microdiscectomy will be performed.

A majority of patients experience pain relief and regain feeling in limbs almost instantly following surgery.

What is a Discectomy?

A discectomy is performed when a disc in the spine, which separates the vertebrae becomes damaged or inflamed and requires removal. This procedure is frequently used to treat a herniated disc. The discs in the spine between vertebrae are composed of a tougher exterior and a jelly-like center to prevent the bones from rubbing. A herniated disc occurs when the soft center of the disc begins to expand, pushing through the tougher exterior and placing pressure on the nerve roots.

Your surgeon will make an incision above the damaged area of the spine to access the herniated disc. Muscles in the neck or back will need to be moved to allow access to the spine. This process typically extends recovery time as the muscles will need to heal once put back into place following surgery. With the use of a guiding needle, surgical instruments are used to cut away the protruding portions of the disc.

Typically a discectomy is performed due to more severe damage to the disc. The disc may be completely removed and replaced with a bone graft, or transplanted bone tissue, in a procedure called cervical fusion. Your surgeon will use metal hardware such as plates and rods to hold the bone graft in place and allow the newly formed vertebrae to naturally grow together and heal.

Depending on the extent of damage to the disc, your surgeon may recommend physical therapy and the use of a back brace as the newly formed vertebrae heals. Typically, pressure on the nerve root will be relieved immediately following surgery and a majority of patients will make a full recovery allowing a return to normal activities pain-free.

What is a Microdiscectomy?

A microdiscectomy is a minimally invasive surgery that allows your surgeon to cut away damaging portions of a herniated disc without impacting the surrounding muscles. With the use of a guiding needle, small surgical instruments are inserted through a tiny incision above the damaged disc. Thanks to this advanced technique, your surgeon is able to perform precise and accurate surgery on such a small segment of the spine without damaging the surrounding muscles.

Your surgeon will cut away the protruding segments of the herniated disc allowing the nerve roots to heal unimpeded. This minimally invasive procedure provides patients with instant relief from spine pressure and pain caused by the neural impingement.

What Conditions Require a Discectomy/Microdiscectomy?

The most frequent condition requiring a discectomy or a microdiscectomy is a herniated disc causing the following chronic symptoms:

  • Numbness of the legs or buttocks
  • Trouble standing or walking due to nerve weakness
  • Radiating pain into your legs, buttocks, arms or chest
  • Muscle weakness

Your surgeon will begin by using nonsurgical treatments to provide pain relief. However, if conservative methods are unsuccessful, a discectomy or microdiscectomy will be performed to alleviate nerve pressure.

What are the Results and Recovery of the Procedure?

A majority of patients will experience immediate pain relief following a microdiscectomy. Due to the minimally invasive nature of this procedure, recovery time is minimal. Patients will require a follow-up visit with a surgeon to monitor the progress of a microdiscectomy. While the procedure removes the source of nerve pressure, it does not provide a long-term solution to prevent a future herniated disc. There is still a chance of an overgrowth in the jelly-like center of the disc causing pressure on the nerve roots in the future.

After a discectomy, a longer recovery time is necessary due to the impacted muscles and the healing process in a cervical fusion. In a majority of cases, patients will need to wear a cervical collar during the initial recovery period to prevent any movement in the newly formed vertebrae. Recovery time will vary in patients depending on the condition of the spine. Physical therapy may be used to slowing introduce flexibility in the spine. Patients will experience pain relief and will be able to return to an active lifestyle following this procedure.


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