1 What is a Diskectomy?

Diskectomy is a surgical procedure that deals with the removal of the damaged portion of a herniated disk in your spine.

A herniated disk can cause irritation or compression of nerves located close to a hernia, which leads to pain, numbness, and weakness.

The symptoms can affect your neck, back or may radiate down to your arms and legs. Diskectomy works most efficiently on radiating symptoms.

It is less helpful for actual back pain or neck pain. The majority of individuals who have back or neck pain find relief with more-conservative treatments, such as pain medication or physical therapy.

Your doctor can only suggest diskectomy if conservative, non-surgical treatments have not worked or if your symptoms worsen.

There are several ways in which a diskectomy can be performed. Many surgeons now prefer, minimally invasive diskectomy, which makes use of small incisions and a video camera for viewing.

2 Reasons for Procedure

The main reason for a diskectomy is to relieve the pressure a herniated disk (also called slipped, ruptured or bulging disk or disk prolapse) places on a spinal nerve. 

A herniated disk is a result of the softer material inside the disk pushing out through a crack in the tougher exterior.

Your doctor may recommend diskectomy in the following cases:

  • You have trouble standing and walking due to nerve weakness.
  • Conservative treatment, such as medication or physical therapy is ineffective after six weeks.
  • A disk fragment becomes lodged in your spinal canal, and presses on a nerve.
  • Pain radiating into your buttocks, legs, arms or chest becomes unbearable.

3 Potential Risks

Although generally considered a safe procedure, diskectomy carries the following risk of complications:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Leaking spinal fluid
  • Injury to blood vessels and nerves around the spine
  • Injury to the protective layer surrounding the spine

4 Preparing for your Procedure

In order to prepare for a diskectomy, you may be required to stay away from any food or drink for a particular period of time. You doctor will provide the necessary instructions.

5 What to Expect

Read on to learn more about what to expect before, during, and after your diskectomy procedure.

Surgeons usually perform diskectomy using general anesthesia, so you're unconscious during the procedure. You'll receive the anesthetic medication as a gas — to breathe through a mask — or by an injection into a vein.

Small amounts of spinal bone and ligament may be removed to gain access to the herniated disk. Ideally, just the fragment of the disk that is pinching the nerve is removed, relieving the pressure but leaving most of the disk intact.

If the entire disk must be taken out, your surgeon may need to fill the space with a piece of bone — taken from a cadaver or from your own pelvis — or a synthetic bone substitute. The adjoining vertebrae are then fused together with metal hardware.

After diskectomy

After surgery, you're moved to a recovery room where the health care team watches for complications from the surgery and anesthesia. You may be healthy enough to go home the same day you have surgery, although a short hospital stay may be necessary if you have any serious pre-existing medical conditions.

Depending on the amount of lifting, walking and sitting your job involves, you may be able to return to work in two to six weeks. If you have a job that includes heavy lifting or operating heavy machinery, your doctor may advise you to wait six to eight weeks before returning to work.

Limit activities involving lifting, bending and stooping for four weeks after diskectomy. You may also need to limit the amount of time you spend sitting for four weeks following the surgery.

A physical therapist can teach you exercises to improve the strength and flexibility of the muscles around your spine.

6 Procedure Results

Understanding the results of your diskectomy will be made possible by your doctor.

Diskectomy reduces herniated symptoms in most individuals who have clear signs of nerve compression, such as radiating pain.

However, diskectomy may not be a permanent cure, because it does not do anything to reverse the process that initially led to disk herniation.

To avoid re-injuring your spine, your doctor may recommend weight loss, a low-impact exercise program, and ask that you limit some activities that involve extensive or repetitive bending, twisting or lifting.

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