Microscopic Discectomy

A herniated lumbar disc can cause significant lower back pain, sciatic pain, and other problems associated with the pressure the herniated or ruptured disc places on the outer ring of the disc or the spinal nerves. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons reports that 60 percent to 80 percent of people will suffer lower back pain sometime during their lives, and that one of the most common causes of lower back pain and leg pain is a herniated disc.

For many people, non-surgical treatment is effective in treating lower back pain from a herniated lumbar disc. Non-surgical treatment options include rest, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory drugs, and steroid injections.

However, when non-surgical treatments fail to address the pain and muscle weakness associated with a slipped, ruptured, or herniated disc, surgical options including some minimally invasive procedures may provide relief. The most common type of surgical treatment for herniated lumbar disc is microscopic discectomy, also known as microdiscectomy, microscopic lumbar discectomy, or open discectomy.

Who Should Consider Microdiscectomy

As stated earlier, many people are able to find relief of lower back pain and other symptoms associated with a herniated lumbar disc through non-surgical treatment options. Sometimes, however, the process of rest, therapy, and medication simply takes too long to provide relief. In other cases, the symptoms of the herniated disc are too debilitating to continue without surgical intervention.

Symptoms associated with a herniated disc may include the following:

  • Back pain
  • Sciatica, or leg or foot pain
  • Numbness of the leg or foot
  • Tingling in the leg or foot
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control

If a herniated disc is causing an inability to control one’s bowel or bladder, emergency surgical treatment is likely necessary to prevent more serious problems associated with cauda equine syndrome from compressed spinal nerves.

The North American Spine Association recommends confirming herniated disc through diagnostic imaging (MRI or CT scan, for example) if lower back pain does not respond to non-surgical treatment options within six weeks. If a herniated disc is confirmed, microscopic discectomy may be considered as a viable treatment option.

What To Expect

Essentially, in microdiscectomy, the surgeon removes the internal portion of the disc that is bulging and pressing against the outer ring of the disk or which has pushed through and placed pressure on the spinal nerves, causing sciatica or leg pain and weakness. During the procedure, the patient is typically under general anesthesia and can expect an overnight hospital stay. Depending on a patient’s specific circumstances, the surgeon may recommend slowly resuming daily activities, including walking and other therapeutic exercises, or may suggest rehabilitation therapy. Some people may return to work in as little as two weeks; others, particularly those whose job duties include heavy lifting, may not return to works for up to eight weeks.

Risks associated with microscopic discectomy are similar to those associated with any surgical procedure, including anesthesia risks and the risk of infection. A benefit of surgery, however, is that relief is often achieved much more quickly than through non-surgical treatment.

If you suffer from lower back pain or sciatica related to a herniated lumbar disk, talk to your surgeon to find out if microscopic discectomy is right for you.