Surgery can make anyone feel apprehensive, and if a doctor from The Spine Center or another physician from elsewhere has recommended a discectomy, you probably have a lot of questions. Why do I need a discectomy? What does the procedure entail? Is it a major surgery? How much downtime will I need afterward?
These are all normal queries, and we want to set your mind at ease! Though discectomies are common spinal surgeries, you should understand why your doctor has recommended the procedure, what it involves, and what your recovery will be like. At The Spine Center, we believe that education is part of proper preparation for surgery.
Let’s start by explaining the basics of the procedure.
What is a Discectomy?
A discectomy is the preferred surgical treatment for herniated or otherwise damaged discs. (See below for more details on why surgeons perform discectomies.) It involves the removal of part or all of a damaged disc. During the procedure, a surgeon carefully takes away the outer protective part of the disc before removing the watery jelly at its center. This immediately relieves pressure on the nerve root, eliminating a large portion (or even all) of a patient’s pain. The surgeon will then examine the spinal canal for any remaining bone spurs or disc fragments that could cause further discomfort.
What is the difference between a Discectomy and a Microdiscectomy?
Traditionally, discectomies are major surgeries. They usually require an incision measuring anywhere from two to four inches, general anesthesia, and a significant recovery time. (More on that in a following section.)
Microdiscectomy is an alternative to the traditional discectomy. A minimally invasive procedure, it requires a much smaller incision, and while it is often done under general anesthetic, it is sometimes performed on an outpatient basis. These days, most surgeons are only performing microdiscectomies. Therefore the terms “discectomy” and “microdiscectomy” will often be used interchangeably. Surgeons generally consider it the best treatment when dealing with herniated discs that require only partial removal of the damaged tissue. In some cases, a surgeon can conduct a microdiscectomy without using an open incision. In these cases, the physician will use a series of small tubes to perform the procedure.
Timing matters when it comes to microdiscectomies. Patients have poorer outcomes if more than six months have passed since the onset of symptoms. If you’re dealing with chronic spinal issues and your doctor recommends a microdiscectomy, acting sooner will help your health in the long run.
Why is a Discectomy performed?
When spinal discs develop problems, patients can experience significant pain and discomfort that sometimes manifest in dramatic ways. Discs can herniate, prolapse, or slip, putting pressure on the underlying nerves. This can lead to significant discomfort or even weakness or numbness that travels down into the legs. Other symptoms may include:
- Mild to severe pain in the lower back, buttocks, legs, or (in certain cases) feet and ankles
- Tingling, numbness, pain, and/or weakness in the legs or feet
- Difficulty standing or trouble lifting the legs
These symptoms indicate that sometime more than mere muscular problems or simple aging are at work. If your doctor recommends a discectomy, it means that you have underlying problems that aren’t simply going to go away on their own.
What can I expect during my Discectomy procedure?
In some sense, the preparation for your discectomy procedure will begin well before the actual date of your surgery. Your surgeon may recommend that you meet with your general practitioner to ensure that you’re in good enough health for a procedure. If you’re carrying more weight than recommended, you should lose some prior to your discectomy. Not only will this help ensure the best possible outcome, it will also speed up your recovery.
On the morning of your procedure, you will arrive at the hospital or outpatient center. After changing into a hospital gown, a nurse will insert an IV. An anesthesiologist will administer anesthesia, and the surgery will commence. Afterward, hospital staff will monitor you to ensure that your vitals remain stable and that you return to full wakefulness.
Although some patient can return home the day of their surgery, others may require one night in the hospital.
What sort of recovery/physical therapy is required post-surgery?
You should expect to feel some discomfort after your discectomy, and adequately managing your pain will be important. So is maintaining an appropriate level of activity through physical therapy, stretches at home, and walking short distances. While most patients will be able to return to desk-type work within two to four weeks, your actual timetable will depend on your personal case. No matter how long it takes for you to return to your normal schedule, following through on your doctor’s recommended stretching and exercise regime will help you gain increased range of movement in your spine.
The Spine Center’s surgeons have a combined 50 years of medical experience, including a thorough understanding of discectomies and microdiscectomies. Our goal is your increased health. Contact or call us today at (847) 628-8147 so that we can help you live a fuller, pain-free life.