Discectomy is the most common surgical treatment for a herniated disc, which often occurs as a result of degenerative disc disease. It involves removing the injured part of the disc, relieving pressure on the affected nerve.
Discectomy may be an open procedure, which gives surgeons direct access to the disc through an incision. NYU Langone surgeons may instead recommend a minimally invasive microdiscectomy, in which they use tiny instruments and small incisions to gain access to the disc. Either technique may be used to remove a herniated disc fragment in the lower spine or neck.
Cervical Spine Discectomy
Your surgeon may perform a discectomy on the cervical spine—the vertebrae of the neck—in one of two ways. With an anterior approach, surgeons access the herniated disc through the front of the neck. With a posterior approach, doctors access the disc from the back of the neck.
If a herniated disc in the neck compresses nearby nerves but not the spinal cord, surgeons may use a posterior approach. In this procedure, your surgeon makes an incision in the back of the neck and removes a small portion of the vertebra to access the disc space. This is called a laminotomy or foraminotomy. Your surgeon then removes the herniated disc fragment, relieving pressure on the affected nerves.
If the herniated disc compresses nerves and the spinal cord, your surgeon may use an anterior approach. In this procedure, he or she makes an incision in the front of the neck to access the disc space. He or she may remove a portion of the vertebra to remove the herniated disc, relieving pressure on the nerves and spinal cord. After the disc has been removed, your surgeon fuses the two vertebrae to stabilize the cervical spine. This is called spinal fusion.
Surgeons may perform a lumbar discectomy to relieve pain from a herniated disc in the lumbar spine, or the vertebrae in the lower back. Spine specialists make a small incision and use powerful microscopes and other tools to magnify their view of the space around the disc, as well as the surrounding bones and nerves.
Doctors may need to remove a small piece of vertebra to access the herniated disc fragment. This procedure is called a hemilaminotomy. Surgeons then carefully remove the injured section of the disc, removing pressure from the nerve.
Recovery from Discectomy
Most people can return home on the day of surgery. If laminectomy—a procedure to remove part of a vertebra—or spinal fusion is performed in addition to discectomy, surgery may take longer. You may need stay in the hospital for one or more days for observation as you heal.
Most people can stand up and walk within hours of a discectomy. An NYU Langone pain management specialist ensures you have the medication you need to remain comfortable while you recover. It may take four to six weeks to return to all of your usual activities, but surgery often provides almost immediate relief from pain that radiates to the arms or legs.