If you have a herniated disc and your symptoms have not improved with nonsurgical treatments like exercise and pain medicine, your doctor may suggest discectomy.
Discectomy is an effective treatment for a herniated disc because it allows a surgeon to remove the parts of the disc that are pressing on the spinal cord nerves and causing symptoms.
There are two versions of discectomy: minimally invasive and open. During a minimally invasive discectomy, the surgeon performs the procedure through a small incision with laparoscopic tools. During an open discectomy, the surgeon makes a larger incision and cuts muscle to access the herniated disc.
Discectomy takes about an hour to complete. You can expect the following on the day of the procedure:
- An anesthesiologist will give you general anesthesia through an IV before the procedure begins.
- If you will undergo a minimally invasive discectomy, your surgeon will make an incision that is just long enough to fit the laparoscopic tools – often less than 1 inch.
- If you will undergo an open discectomy, your surgeon will make a larger incision and cut through muscle to access the herniated disc.
- In some cases, a laminectomy must also be performed to access the herniated disc.
- Once your surgeon has access to the herniated disc, he or she will use tools to remove the parts of the disc that are pressing on the surrounding spinal cord nerves.
- The surgeon will then close the incision with stitches and cover it with a surgical dressing.
Though discectomy may be performed on an outpatient basis, some patients require an overnight stay in the hospital. Either way, you should plan to have someone drive you to and from the procedure.
Once you return home, be sure to follow all of your surgeon's orders for recovery. This may include rest from work and other activities for a week or longer and physical therapy.