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What is diskectomy?

Diskectomy is surgery to remove all or part of a cushion that helps protect your spinal column. These cushions, called disks, separate your spinal bones (vertebrae). The disks allow movement between the vertebrae, which allows you to bend and reach.

These disks may move out of place (herniate) or break open (rupture) from injury. When this happens, there may be pressure on your spinal nerves. This can lead to pain, numbness, or weakness.

What happens during surgery?

Microdiskectomy is done in a hospital or outpatient surgical center. This type of diskectomy surgery is done when the surgeon does not need to do much surgery on the bones, joints, ligaments, or muscles of your spine.

You will not feel any pain during surgery because you will receive spinal or general anesthesia. These are medicines that block pain. Your surgeon will:

  • Make a small cut on your back and move the back muscles away from the spine. A special microscope is used to see the problem disk or disks and nerves during surgery.
  • Find the nerve root and move it away. Then the injured disk tissue and pieces are removed. After that, your surgeon puts the back muscles back in place, and closes the wound with stitches or staples.

This surgery usually takes 1 to 2 hours.

Diskectomy is done in the hospital operating room and also involves surgery on the bones of your spine.

You will not feel any pain during surgery because you will receive general anesthesia, medicine that blocks pain. Your surgeon will:

  • Make a cut on your back over your spine. Muscles and tissue are moved to expose your spine.
  • Cut away a small part of the vertebrae that surrounds the spinal column and nerves called the lamina bone. The opening may be as large as the ligament that runs along your spine.
  • Cut a small hole in the disk that is causing your symptoms. Then, your surgeon will remove material from inside the disk. Other fragments of the disk may also be removed.
  • Do more surgery if needed, such as a laminotomy, laminectomy, foraminotomy, or spinal fusion, if needed.

Why is the procedure done?

Many of the symptoms caused by a herniated disk get better or go away over time without surgery. Most people with low back pain, numbness, or even mild weakness should first try treatment with anti-inflammatory pain medicines, physical therapy, and exercise. Only a few people with a herniated disk need surgery.

Your doctor may recommend a diskectomy if you have a herniated disk and:

  • Leg pain or numbness that spreads into your buttocks or legs that is very bad or is not going away, making it hard to do daily tasks
  • Severe weakness in muscles of your lower leg that affect your ability to walk

If you are having problems with your bowels or bladder, or the pain is so bad that strong pain drugs do not help, you will probably have surgery right away.

How well does diskectomy work?

Most people have pain relief and can move better after surgery. Numbness and tingling should get better or disappear.

If you are also having symptoms caused by other spine problems, these symptoms may not improve.

Whether or not you have surgery for a bulging disk, you may have further changes in that area of your spine over time and have new or recurring symptoms.

Your pain, numbness, or weakness may NOT get better or go away if your disk damaged your nerve before surgery.

Talk with your doctor about how to prevent future back problems.

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Review Date: 4/3/2018

Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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