When spinal or nerve dysfunction affects quality of life to an unbearable extent, individuals may face the prospect of a surgical procedure called lumbar discectomy. This removal of spinal disc material can provide significant relief in cases that have not responded to other treatment methods.
Anyone considering major surgery should gain an understanding of that surgery’s steps, benefits, and potential risks, especially when that surgery involves the spinal structures or major nerves. Take a look at the answers to some frequently asked questions about lumbar discectomy surgery.
What Is Lumbar Discectomy?
A lumbar discectomy involves partial removal of a vertebral disc. Neurosurgeons commonly perform this procedure on one or more herniated discs in the spinal column, especially when the herniated disc presses against either the spinal cord or the major nerve roots that extend from the spinal cord to other nerves in the body.
A vertebral disc herniates when a small part of its outer casing (known as the annulus) weakens and tears due to a degenerative problem or acute accident trauma. This damage allows the fluid inner material of the disc (the nucleus) to push the weakened section outward.
Which Symptoms Can Lumbar Discectomy Relieve?
While a mildly herniated disc may produce little or no discomfort, a herniated disc that pinches nerve tissue can create serious problems for sufferers. Herniations occurring in the cervical spine, for instance, may cause pain, weakness, numbness, or other neurological problems in the upper extremities, a syndrome known as cervical radiculopathy.
A lumbar herniated disc may pinch the major nerve roots attached to the sciatic nerve, a massive nerve that relays information to and from every part of the leg. This impingement can lead to sciatica, which affects the buttock, leg, or foot much as cervical radiculopathy affects the arms and hands.
Sciatica not only causes intense discomfort, but the resulting nerve dysfunction in the leg or foot may affect your ability to walk, stand, or balance your body. Lumbar discectomy can resolve these lower-extremity issues by taking the pressure off of the sciatic nerve tissue.
How Does Microscopic Lumbar Discectomy Differ From Open Lumbar Discectomy?
Lumbar discectomy takes one of two primary forms, each with the same goal of removing herniated disc material. In the traditional form of the surgery, known as open lumbar discectomy, the surgeon makes an incision large enough to view the herniated disc and make the necessary repairs using standard surgical instruments.
Microscopic lumbar discectomy represents a notable advance over the traditional open procedure in many ways. This surgery lets the surgeon view and operate on the disc through a much smaller incision with microscopic viewing techniques and endoscopic tools. This procedure minimizes pain and recovery time.
When Should You Consider Lumbar Discectomy Surgery?
Many herniated disc symptoms respond well to non-surgical treatment, making major surgery unnecessary. For this reason, doctors typically recommend that patients exhaust all their conservative care options before proceeding to surgical ones.
If conservative techniques such as massage therapy, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory drugs, and chiropractic adjustment cannot ease your symptoms after a few weeks, you may need to undergo lumbar discectomy. If you develop loss of bladder or bowel control, you need immediate surgery to relieve these serious symptoms.
What Actually Happens During a Lumbar Discectomy?
Speak to a clinic that specializes in microscopic lumbar discectomy. This procedure takes only about 45 minutes of actual surgery time. Your surgeon will start by making a one-inch incision at the site of the damaged disc, employing retractors to hold the incision open for optimal viewing throughout the procedure.
The surgeon will refer to a microscopic viewing device while operating through the tiny incision. This magnification can reveal fine details of the herniation as well as any soft tissues or bone spurs that may contribute to your nerve impingement trouble. The surgeon may then go ahead and remove these obstructions.
Fluoroscopy enhances the surgeon’s view of the spinal anatomy further during your procedure. X-ray images help to pinpoint the ideal spot for the incision and allow for ongoing, real-time views of the surgery in progress.
Your surgeon will remove part of the outer vertebral bone that covers the spinal canal, a structure called the lamina, to gain access to the herniated disc and pinched nerves. Using thin, elongated instruments, the surgeon will carefully move the nerves aside long enough to extract the herniated portion of the disc.
How Do You Recuperate From a Lumbar Discectomy?
Microscopic discectomy involves relatively little bleeding or recovery concerns compared to open discectomy. After the surgeon closes your incision with self-dissolving sutures, you can recuperate at home. You may find it uncomfortable to sit for more than a few minutes at a time during the first weeks of recovery.
Your surgeon will recommend walking and other exercises to help you regain strength and mobility. You should return to your normal daily routine within a month or so.
Southwest Florida Neurosurgical & Rehab Associates can answer any questions you may have about lumbar discectomy. Contact any of our locations to schedule a consultation.