Discectomy (also called diskectomy) is a type of surgery to remove part or all of a spinal disc.
Orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons at Dignity Health perform this type of back surgery to alleviate back pain and other conditions.
Learn how discectomy could help you regain movement and vitality by finding a doctor near you and scheduling a consultation.
Why it’s necessary
Each of your vertebrae is separated from the next by a spinal disc, which is a piece of soft tissue acting as a cushion. Over time, these discs begin to shrink, dry up, and become more brittle with age. In addition to aging, strenuous activities such as weightlifting can cause these discs to crack or split, leaking fluid. This can irritate the nerves in the spinal column, leading to back pain and neurological symptoms such as nerve pain and numbness.
A discectomy is a procedure designed to relieve pain and other symptoms as a result of this issue by removing all of part of the disc. This is typically an option only considered if other, more conservative treatments such as pain relievers and rest do not reduce your back pain.
Your doctor may recommend a discectomy for degenerative, herniated, or ruptured discs if you have:
- Back or leg pain, weakness, or numbness that does not improve with other treatments (like anti-inflammatory medications, rest, and physical therapy) in 6 weeks or more
- Problems with walking and performing other daily tasks
- Inability to control your bowels or bladder due to nerve compression or damage
Discectomy procedures vary depending on the location of the disc to be removed and the approach taken by your surgeon. Discectomies are typically only performed on the lumbar spine (lower back).
Generally, the procedure can be either an open surgery or a minimally invasive microdiscectomy:
- Open surgery involves a 2- to 4-inch incision down your spine.
- Minimally invasive back surgery involves a faster recovery, less pain, and a lower risk of complications than open back surgery. Ask your doctor if you may be a candidate for this type of procedure based on your health history and diagnosis.
Possible risks and complications of discectomy include:
- Damage to the nerves leaving your spine, which could result in permanent pain or weakness
- Disc fragments that remain, which may require more surgery to remove
- Injury to the tissues and organs near the area
- Pain that does not get better or returns
These complications are unusual. Most people experience significant pain relief following a discectomy and find they are better able to engage in daily activities.
Talk with your doctor about minimizing risks and preventing future re-injury to your back. If you notice any of the following after a discectomy, contact your doctor right away:
- Sudden or worsening numbness in your extremities
- Signs of infection around the wound site, such as throbbing, pus, swelling, heat, or red streaks emanating from the incision
- Your stitches fall out or feel loose
- Your pain is getting worse or does not respond to pain medications
- You lose bladder control
- You have a sharp pain in your thigh, calf, or groin
- Bleeding through your bandage
- Redness or swelling in one of your legs
Call 911 immediately if you:
- lose consciousness
- cannot move one of your arms or legs
- cough up blood
- have any chest pain
The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.