A spinal procedure that removes most of a herniated vertebral disc so as to alleviate pressure placed on a nerve root and/or the spinal cord.

What is a Discectomy?

  • Helps with pain from spinal conditions that compress or impinge on a spinal nerve and/or the spinal cord.
  • Removes most of the herniated or bulging vertebral disc. A ligament is removed to access the disc, and may remove any bone spurs or tissues compressing the disc.
  • Procedure is minimally-invasive.

Discectomy is a spinal procedure that alleviates the compression or impingement put on a spinal nerve or the spinal cord, caused by a herniated disc or other spinal conditions. This procedure is minimally-invasive; surgeons perform through a small incision and use tiny instruments to remove disc material. Most of the vertebral disc is removed to relieve compression.

Through a variety of spinal conditions caused by aging, injuries, trauma, or wear and tear, the softer inner disc material may seep or bulge out of the disc's tougher exterior. Known as a herniated or bulging disc, the disc material may push against a spinal nerve root and/or the spinal cord; this may happen in either the cervical (neck area), thoracic (middle back), or lumbar (lower back) part of the spine. Discectomy may help decrease or diminish acute and/or chronic pain experienced by patients with a herniated or bulging disc.

Herniated or bulging discs may affect the patient's quality of life. Acute or chronic pain may cause a variety of painful and debilitating symptoms. Some of the symptoms that discectomy may help decrease or relieve include: acute or chronic back pain that is sharp, dull, deep, throbbing, shooting, or radiating into the extremities, loss of motor functions in the arms or legs, difficulty walking, sitting, or standing, weakness or numbness in the hands, fingers, feet, or toes, and sciatica felt in the buttocks, legs, calves, feet, or toes.

For patients requiring less extensive disc removal, a microdiscectomy, which removes a small part of the affected vertebral disc, may be recommended instead.

What does it treat?

  • Herniated or bulging discs
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Complications from herniated or bulging discs and degenerative disc disease

Who are good candidates?

Discectomy is performed for patients who experience pain or other debilitating symptoms from a compressed or impinged disc. Ideal candidates should have back or neck pain for at least 3 months and should experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Chronic or acute pain in the back or neck that is sharp, dull, deep, throbbing, shooting, or radiating into the extremities
  • Sciatica pain that radiates from the back down to the buttocks, legs, calves, feet, and/or toes
  • Pain that travels from the neck to the shoulders, arms, hands, or fingers
  • Weakness or numbness in the extremities
  • Trouble standing, walking, or sitting due to stiffness, weakness, or pain
  • History of attempting conservative methods of treatment that failed to relieve pain or help with healing the spinal condition

Ideal candidates for a discectomy should accept the possibility of requiring physical rehabilitation in their recovery, and should be optimistic towards pain improvement and management.

What is the procedure like?

Discectomy takes approximately 1 to 2 hours to complete, depending on complexity. The patient will be under local or general anesthesia during the procedure.

The following are the general steps of a discectomy:

  1. A small one-half to 1 inch incision is made over the affected disc, either through the back or anterior (the front).
  2. Dilators are placed in the incision to spread the muscles and tissues apart so the disc can be accessed. Then, a tube-shaped, one-inch diameter retractor is placed in and attached with a clamp.
  3. The surgeon uses a microscope to see inside the tube and removes a small part of the lamina, the bone covering nerves and disc material, and ligament to access the affected disc.
  4. The disc material and most of the disc is removed to relieve the compression.
  5. The surgeon removes the tube and dilator once satisfied, and then closes the incision with sutures.