An intervertebral discectomy is surgery to remove all or part of the damaged discs between each vertebra in the spinal column. It is most often done on discs in the lower (lumbar) part of the spine. It may also be done on cervical discs in the neck.
Discs normally serve as cushions between the bones. They can become damaged or dry with age. Injury can also cause a disc to bulge (herniate). These changes can create pressure on nerves leaving the spine. This can cause pain, numbness, and weakness. This surgery is done when other methods to ease symptoms have not helped.
Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:
Things that may raise the risk of problems are:
The surgical team may meet with you to talk about:
General anesthesia will be given. You will be asleep.
There are two methods to do this surgery:
There are four types of discectomy:
An incision will be made in the skin on the left or right side of the neck. The doctor will go through a muscle to reach the spine. X-rays will be used to locate and remove damaged disc material. Part of the bone may be removed to give the nerve more space. A bone graft may be placed to fuse the vertebrae. The incision will be closed. A bandage will be placed over the area.
An incision will be made in the skin at the back of the neck. The muscles will be moved aside. A small piece of bone will be removed to get to the disc space (laminectomy). The nerve will be moved aside and the damaged disc material will be removed. The incision will be closed. A bandage will be placed over the area.
An incision will be made in the lower back. The muscles will be moved aside. A small part of the bone may need to be removed to gain access to the nerve and disc. Damaged disc material will be removed. The incision will be closed. A bandage will be placed over the area.
It depends on the type of surgery that was done.
Pain and swelling are common in the first few weeks. Medicine and home care can help.
The usual length of stay is 1 to 2 days. If you have problems, you may need to stay longer.
At the Hospital
The staff will give you pain medicine after surgery.
During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to lower your risk of infection, such as:
There are also steps you can take to lower your risk of infection, such as:
It will take a few weeks for the incision and muscles to fully heal. Relief from nerve pain may be felt right away or it may take up to 8 weeks. Physical activity will be limited during recovery. You will need to ask for help with daily activities and delay return to work.
Call your doctor if you are not getting better or you have:
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
North American Spine Society
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
Lumbar disk herniation. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/lumbar-disk-herniation. Accessed July 30, 2021.
Minimally invasive lumbar discectomy. Johns Hopskins Medicine website. Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/minimally-invasive-lumbar-discectomy. Accessed July 30, 2021.
Spine surgery: minimally invasive lumbar discectomy/percutaneous disc removal. Hospital for Special Surgery website. Available at: https://www.hss.edu/conditions_spine-surgery-minimally-invasive-lumbar-discectomy.asp. Accessed July 30, 2021.
Last reviewed July 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM Last Updated: 7/30/2021