Surgery for a Herniated Disc

Discectomy, Fusion, Spinal Instrumentation: Learn Your Options

Written by Jason M. Highsmith, MD

Although most patients with a herniated disc respond well to non-surgical treatments, some patients do need surgery. In general, surgery should be considered only after several months of non-surgical treatment. Many surgical procedures can be performed using minimally invasive techniques (meaning less cutting and entering the body). These techniques result in smaller incisions, shorter hospital stays, less pain after surgery, and a faster recovery.The most typical surgery for a herniated disc is a discectomy. This is a surgical procedure that removes all or part of the damaged intervertebral disc. If the problem is in the neck, this procedure is usually done through the front and is called an anterior discectomy (described in more detail below). Sometimes the surgeon may create more space for the disc and nerve by removing a portion of the bone covering the nerve. This is called a laminectomy (described in more detail below).

More In-depth Articles on Herniated Disc Treatments

More recently, surgeons are performing discectomies using various less invasive techniques (sometimes known as micro, mini-open, minimally invasive, or percutaneous discectomies). In these techniques, surgeons perform the entire surgery through a very small incision, or through a tube which allows them to insert a tiny camera and special surgical instruments. Sometimes the disc is replaced with an artificial disc, although this is more common in the neck than in the low back.

Sometimes multiple spinal procedures are needed to reduce the pain. Other spinal surgeries include:

If your doctor recommends surgery, always ask the purpose of the operation, results you can expect, and possible complications. Feel free to ask for a second opinion if back surgery is suggested; this is your right. Your doctor will be happy to refer you to a specialist to re-evaluate your condition.

Before Your Surgery for a Herniated Disc

Spine surgery should always be taken seriously. Therefore, it is a good idea to be in the best physical condition possible. Here are a few helpful tips:

Pain is always a cause for concern. To recover and remain pain-free, follow the treatment plan your doctor has outlined. Make sure you have regular check-ups, and tell you doctor if you are not getting better. You may think a hurt back is the end of active life style. Think again! A herniated disc is no reason to stop enjoying life. With care and proper medical treatment, you will have a healthy back once again.

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Symptoms of a Herniated Disc