Removing the portion of the spinal disc that is herniated or bulging beyond its usual boundaries

When conservative treatments do not provide long-lasting relief of arm or leg pain, surgical intervention may be considered. A discectomy is a surgical treatment for disc herniation in either the neck or back. It relieves compression of the spinal cord or spinal nerve by removing the portion of the disc that is herniated or bulging beyond its usual boundaries.

Conditions Treated with Discectomy

Herniated or bulging discs.

What to Expect Before the Discectomy

Once you have decided to have a discectomy, below is what you should expect before the surgery:

  • A medical examination.
  • Chest X-ray, EKG and blood work.
  • You may be asked to have a neurological or psychological examination.
  • If taking aspirin or anti-inflammatory medications daily, stop these medications at least one week before discectomy surgery.
  • If you take prescription medications or other drugs, including herbals, ask your doctor how soon before surgery you should stop taking these.
  • Do not have anything to eat or drink for 6 to 8 hours before discectomy surgery.
  • You will check into the hospital the morning of surgery.
    Prior to surgery, you will be asked to sign permits for discectomy surgery, anesthesia, blood and blood products.

During the Discectomy

  • An incision is made in the low back area.
  • Fluoroscopy (live X-ray) is used to determine the correct level(s) to be operated.
  • The disc tissue that is compressing the nerve(s) is removed.
  • Surgery takes approximately 1-2 hours.

After the Discectomy

  • You will be in the recovery room from 1 to 1½ hours.
  • The surgeon will contact your family while you are in recovery.
  • After going to a hospital room, you will be able to use a PCA pump to get medication for pain control. This machine controls the amount of medication that can be received.
  • Staff will usually get you out of bed the same day as the surgery.
  • The hospital stay is usually one day.
  • A brace or corset may be prescribed to restrict bending.
  • You will be given any needed prescriptions and discharge instructions.
  • A set of exercises that you can do at home will be provided.
  • You will be able to ride in a car or plane upon leaving the hospital.
  • Physical therapy is usually initiated after the first office visit with your doctor following surgery.

Recovery from Discectomy

Recovery from discectomy is usually relatively brief, but it varies greatly among patients and is dependent on the age and health of the individual. Return to work also varies greatly among patients and is related to overall health and the type of work you do.

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