The surgeon makes a small (1 to 1-1/2 inch) incision (cut) on your back and moves the back muscles away from the spine. The doctor uses a special microscope to see the problem disk or disks and nerves during surgery.
The surgeon finds the nerve root and moves it away. Then the surgeon removes the injured disk tissue and pieces. The surgeon puts the back muscles back in place, and closes the wound with stitches or staples.
The surgery takes about 1 to 2 hours.
Diskectomy and laminotomy is done in the hospital, using general anesthesia (asleep and pain-free).
The surgeon makes a larger cut on your back over the spine. Muscles and tissue are moved to expose your spine.
A small part of the lamina bone (part of the vertebrae that surrounds the spinal column and nerves) is cut away. The opening may be as large as the ligament that runs along your spine. The surgeon cuts a small hole in the disk that is causing your symptoms and removes material from inside. Other fragments of the disk may also be removed.
Why the Procedure Is Performed
When one of your disks herniates (moves out of place), the soft gel inside pushes through the wall of the disk. The disk may then place pressure on the spinal cord and nerves that are coming out of your spinal column.
Many of the symptoms caused by a herniated disk get better or go away over time without surgery. Most people with low back or neck pain, numbness, or even mild weakness are often first treated with anti-inflammatory medicines, physical therapy, and exercise. Only a few people with a herniated disk need surgery.
Your doctor may recommend a diskectomy if you have a herniated disk and:
Leg pain or numbness that is very bad or is not going away, making it hard to do daily tasks
Severe weakness in muscles of your lower leg or buttocks
Pain that spreads into your buttocks or legs
If you are having problems with your bowels or bladder, or the pain is so bad that strong pain drugs do not help, you will probably have surgery right away.
Damage to the nerves that come out of the spine, causing weakness or pain that does not go away.
Your back pain does not get better or comes back again later.
Pain after surgery due if all the disk fragments are not removed.
Spinal fluid may leak.
The disk may slip again.
Before the Procedure
Always tell your doctor or nurse what drugs you are taking, even drugs or herbs you bought without a prescription.
During the days before the surgery:
Prepare your home for when you come back from the hospital.
If you are a smoker, you need to stop. Your recovery will be slower and possibly not as good if you continue to smoke. Ask your doctor for help.
Two weeks before surgery, you may be asked to stop taking drugs that make it harder for your blood to clot. These include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), and other drugs like these.
If you have diabetes, heart disease, or other medical problems, your surgeon will ask you to see your regular doctor.
Talk with your doctor if you have been drinking a lot of alcohol.
Ask your doctor which drugs you should still take on the day of the surgery.
Always let your doctor know about any cold, flu, fever, herpes breakout, or other illnesses you may have.
You may want to visit the physical therapist to learn some exercises to do before surgery and to practice using crutches.
On the day of the surgery:
You will usually be asked not to drink or eat anything for 6 to 12 hours before the procedure.
Take your drugs your doctor told you to take with a small sip of water.
Bring your cane, walker, or wheelchair if you have one already. Also bring shoes with flat, nonskid soles.
Your doctor or nurse will tell you when to arrive at the hospital.
After the Procedure
Your doctor or nurse will ask you to get up and walk around as soon as your anesthesia wears off. Most people go home the day of surgery. Do NOT drive yourself home.
Most people have pain relief and can move better after surgery. Numbness and tingling should get better or disappear. Your pain, numbness, or weakness may not get better or go away if your had nerve damage before surgery or if you have symptoms caused by other spinal conditions.
Further changes may occur in your spine over time and new symptoms may occur.
Talk with your doctor about how to prevent future back problems.
Chou R, Loeser JD, Owens DK, Rosenquist RW, et al; American Pain Society Low Back Pain Guideline Panel. Interventional therapies, surgery, and interdisciplinary rehabilitation for low back pain: an evidence-based clinical practice guideline from the American Pain Society. Spine. 2009;34(10):1066-77.
Chou R, Qaseem A, et al. Diagnosis and treatment of low back pain: a joint clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society. Ann Intern Med. 2007;147(7):478-491.
Gregory DS, Seto CK, Wortley GC, Shugart CM. Acute lumbar disk pain: navigating evaluation and treatment choices. Am Fam Physician. 2008;78(7):835-842.
Williams KD, Park AL. Lower back pain and disorders of intervertebral discs. In: Canale ST, Beatty JH, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap 39.
Jegede KA, Ndu A, Grauer JN. Contemporary management of symptomatic lumbar disc herniations. Orthop Clin North Am. 2010 Apr;41(2):217-24.
Dennis Ogiela, MD, Orthopedic Surgeon, Danbury Hospital, Danbury, CT. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.