Discs are spongy “dividers” located between each pair of vertebrae (spine bones). As part of your spine, discs play an important role, protecting your spine and the nerves it contains. They also help your spine stay flexible.
Sometimes, a disc can develop a problem and wind up causing chronic back or neck pain and other symptoms. When conservative treatments like rest and physical therapy don’t help, your doctor might recommend a surgical procedure called a discectomy to remove part or all of the disc.
At Steel City Spine and Orthopedic Center, with offices in Pittsburg, McKees Rocks, and Washington, Pennsylvania, Jocelyn Idema, DO, performs discectomy procedures using state-of-the-art techniques aimed at helping patients find long-lasting relief from painful symptoms. If a discectomy is in your future, here’s what to expect during and after your procedure.
A discectomy is performed when a problem with one or more discs causes persistent pain, with or without other symptoms like numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness in your arms or legs. If you have a disc that’s herniated, ruptured, or degenerated, a discectomy could be the best way to relieve long-term symptoms.
In general, discectomy surgery is only recommended when:
- Your symptoms aren’t relieved by other, nonsurgical treatments
- Your symptoms persist for several weeks
- Your symptoms are interfering with regular activities
- You have problems with walking or bowel or bladder control
A discectomy can be performed in any part of your spine, including:
- Your lower back (lumbar spine)
- Your neck (cervical spine)
- Your mid-back area (thoracic spine)
- Your tailbone area, or sacrum
Discectomy surgery is often combined with other procedures, like artificial disc replacement or spinal fusion.
During your discectomy
Depending on your specific needs, your discectomy may be performed using an incision right over your spine (the posterior approach) or through the front of your body (the anterior approach). In addition, Dr. Idema may decide to use an “open” technique or microdiscectomy.
Open surgery uses an incision measuring from 2-4 inches. This larger incision allows Dr. Idema to see the area around your spine, and is the approach that’s commonly used with ruptured or herniated discs in your lower back. Open incisions are also often used when your discectomy is being combined with another procedure, like spinal fusion.
Microdiscectomy is a minimally invasive technique that uses a very small incision, typically under an inch in length. Dr. Idema uses special instruments to perform your surgery. One instrument carries a very tiny camera that sends real-time video to a monitor. Dr. Idema watches the monitor while controlling the instruments remotely.
No matter which approach Dr. Idema uses, you’ll be kept comfortable with either general anesthesia or a regional anesthetic combined with a sedative to help you stay deeply relaxed.
Recovering from your discectomy
A discectomy typically is performed on an outpatient basis, which means that shortly after your surgery, you’ll be discharged home. In some instances, Dr. Idema may have you stay in the hospital for a day or two during the early stages of recovery.
Your recovery time will depend on the issue that’s being treated, your general health, the technique Dr. Idema uses, and other factors. Generally, a microdiscectomy is associated with faster healing because it involves a smaller incision and less tissue damage.
Dr. Idema will provide you with a set of instructions to guide you through recovery, including how active you can be and what types of activities you can perform.
You’ll also begin a course of physical therapy shortly after your surgery to promote faster healing and a smooth recovery. Most patients fully recover within a couple of months.
Learn more about discectomy
A discectomy uses advanced techniques so you can get back to the activities you love — without painful symptoms. To learn more about discectomy surgery and other spine treatments offered at Steel City Spine and Orthopedic Center, call our office more convenient to you or request an appointment online today.