Lumbar Microdiscectomy

The modern tendency is for surgery to become less invasive. During the last decades, we have seen minimally invasive surgeries replace open surgeries in many specialties. This is particularly true in spinal surgery. There are several advantages to smaller, less invasive surgical procedures, including that: [1] they involve less risk [2] they heal more quickly and [3] they leave less scarring. Nowhere is this truer than in lumbar microdiscectomy, an operation performed on the low back to remove herniated disc material that is causing pressure and pain on a nerve root or on the spinal cord itself.

How Microdiscectomy Differs from Routine Discectomy

Microdiscectomy is performed using a special microscope to view the disc and nerves up close with great precision on a computer screen. By viewing the magnified details of the site, the surgeon is better able to target the area of deterioration and to avoid damaging any surrounding tissue.

Before the disc can be removed, a small amount of bone is typically removed from the affected vertebra -- a procedure is known as a laminotomy or a laminectomy -- that enables the surgeon to better visualize the herniated disc. Most patients who have microdiscectomies spend a single night in the hospital. The procedure may be performed with the patient under local or general anesthetic, depending on the particular circumstances.

Reasons for a Lumbar Microdiscectomy

While many people are able to function with herniated discs with the help of analgesics and physical therapy, surgery becomes necessary when pain level interferes with the normal movement necessary for daily activities. Lumbar microdiscectomy is recommended when:

  • The patient has severe radiating leg pain, numbness or weakness
  • The patient’s leg symptoms do not improve after 4 weeks of nonsurgical treatment
  • Diagnostic exams like CT scans or MRIs show that surgery is likely to be helpful
  • The patient loses bowel or bladder
  • The patient experiences new symptoms, e.g. numbness in the buttocks or genitals