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A herniated disc, which also goes by the labels slipped or bulging disc, is a common condition that often results in radiating pain that can interfere with your daily activities. Herniations are often a byproduct of the aging process as the spinal discs tend to lose water content over time. The depletion of hydration leads to drying and a higher incidence of cracking and damage to the disc. In some instances, surgery may be considered the optimal approach to ease the symptoms associated with a herniated disc. At the Orthopaedic Institute of Ohio, we offer our patients lumbar discectomy options to remove portions of the damaged disc and restore comfort and function to the spine.

Overview of a Herniated Disc

The spine consists of individual vertebrae separated by rubbery discs. The discs have the consistency of jelly inside with a slightly tougher outer covering. As the exterior dries out over time, it can be more prone to cracking, which allows some of the jelly substance to seep out. The inner material can press against nerves that lead to the arms and legs. The result is pain, weakness and tingling in the back and affected limbs. In some cases, a herniated disc can occur without any symptoms, if the escaping jelly does not compress any of the surrounding nerves.

Pinpointing the cause of a herniated disc can be difficult. In some cases, it happens when you lift something heavy using your back instead of your leg muscles. You can also damage a disc by lifting and rotating the back at the same time. Damage is more likely after significant wear and tear on the disc, which is why this condition tends to occur more often in adults over the age of 50.

What is Lumbar Discectomy?

A lumbar discectomy is a surgical treatment that removes a portion or all the herniated disc to produce relief from pain and other symptoms. The procedure may be performed using minimally-invasive techniques with some patients, which means you can have surgery on an outpatient basis with a shorter recovery process afterward. Other patients may require an open discectomy, which is more invasive but may be necessary to perform the full correction needed for a positive outcome. If the entire disc must be removed, spinal fusion may also be performed to fuse the vertebrae together and create stability in the spine.

Is Lumbar Discectomy Right for You?

Not everyone that has a herniated disc will require surgical correction. Your surgeon may recommend this procedure if other forms of treatment, such as pain medication or physical therapy, have not been successful in relieving symptoms. If you are experiencing any of the following, you may also be a good candidate for lumbar discectomy.

  • Extreme weakness that makes it difficult to stand or walk
  • Pain that radiates in your upper or lower limbs
  • Difficulty controlling your bladder or bowels
  • Your pain and weakness interfere with performing daily tasks
  • You can no longer enjoy activities due to your symptoms

Benefits and Risks of Lumbar Discectomy

Every surgery has both advantages and risks, which must be evaluated before determining if the procedure is the correct option for a patient. Lumbar discectomy boasts a relatively high patient satisfaction rate, offering the following benefits:

  • Significant reduction in pain for many patients
  • Increased strength in the back and affected limbs
  • Patients often see quick relief from symptoms
  • Fast recovery if the procedure is performed endoscopically
  • Ability to resume activities and perform daily tasks

While the satisfaction rate is high, patients also need to be aware of the risks associated with lumbar discectomy:

  • Infection, reduced with the use of antibiotics
  • Bleeding and the formation of blood clots
  • Damage to surrounding nerves and blood vessels
  • Leakage of spinal fluid
  • Relief from surgery may be only temporary

You and your surgeon can weigh the risks and benefits to determine whether lumbar discectomy will provide the desired outcome.

Lumbar Discectomy Overview

If you are undergoing open lumbar discectomy, it will be performed under general anesthesia. Endoscopic or minimally-invasive discectomy is done using general or local anesthesia. Your surgeon will create an incision on your back at the location of the herniation. During open discectomy, the incision will be long enough to access the damaged disc directly. Next, your surgeon will remove as much of the damaged disc as necessary to eliminate the compression on the nerves and the resulting symptoms.

With minimally-invasive discectomy, a much smaller incision is made to allow for insertion of a wire that is guided to the disc. A tube is placed over the wire – then a second and possibly even a third as the surgeon makes space in the tissue to access the affected disc. Tools are inserted into the tube that include a camera to visualize the area and other devices to remove the bulging portion of the disc. This type of surgery takes about one hour to complete, and patients usually go home a couple of hours later as long as they have someone to drive them.

Recovery from Lumbar Discectomy

Patients can usually go back to work within one to six weeks. The precise time frame will depend on how the procedure was performed and the level of exertion associated with your job. You may have some restrictions on bending and lifting to give the spine ample time to heal. Some patients may be advised to wear a brace for a short period as well to provide additional stability during the recovery process. Some patients are discouraged to find their pain level increases somewhat immediately following surgery, but rest assured it should subside quickly until it is much less than what you experienced before your procedure.

When used appropriately and performed by an experienced orthopedic surgeon, a lumbar discectomy can significantly ease painful symptoms associated with a herniated disc. To find out if this is the correct approach for you, contact Orthopaedic Institute of Ohio today at 419-222-6622.