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Discectomy is a surgical procedure to remove part or all of a ruptured (herniated) disc in your spine. An injury or medical condition can cause a disc to rupture and its contents to press on a nerve root. This can lead to significant pain in the back, leg, arm or neck. Your doctor may have recommended this surgery to remove the source of the pain.

In order to perform a discectomy, the vertebral bone covering the area, known as the lamina, may also be removed. The procedure is called a laminectomy.

Before the Surgery

  • Recovery planning - Talk with your doctor about your recovery time after surgery. You may need to plan for help at home while you are healing.
  • Medications - Give your doctor a list of all medications you are taking. Many drugs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, can inhibit your body's ability to control bleeding. They can also interfere with the healing process. Your doctor may have you take antibiotic medications before the surgery. This will reduce your risk of infection.
  • Tests - X-rays will be taken of your spine, and blood and urine studies will be completed. A CT (computerized tomography) scan or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) may also be performed to gain a clearer image of the spinal anatomy.
  • Blood donation - You can donate blood for your use during the surgery. Donations can be made up to 5 weeks before the surgery date.
  • Exercise - In general, physical fitness is important for your recovery. Your doctor may also have you participate in an exercise program before the surgery. A physical therapist will guide your program to help you strengthen your back and abdomen.
  • Diet Restrictions - The day before your surgery, you will probably be instructed to avoid eating or drinking after midnight. You may take medications cleared by your doctor.

Day of Surgery
Wash your back with soap before going to the surgical center. Plan to arrive at the facility a few hours before your procedure is scheduled. You will probably be given an intravenous (IV) line. Fluids and medications are transported through the IV to your body. When you are in the operating room, you will be given medications to help you relax and "sleep" during the surgery.

During the Surgery
An incision, or cut, will be made in the skin over the vertebra containing the damaged disc. Special instruments may be used to cut the lamina out of the way. The nerve root will be exposed and moved to the side. The disc is found underneath and the portion pressing on the nerve is removed.

If the laminectomy is large enough to weaken the spine, hardware (such as metal rods) or bone grafts may be used to strengthen the vertebra. In some cases, the vertebrae in the region are joined together (fused) with pieces of healthy bone. The skin is then closed with sutures or staples and a dressing is applied.

After the Surgery
You will need a few hours to awaken from the anesthesia. From the recovery room, you will be taken to your hospital room. Pain medications will continue to make you more comfortable. Typically, most disc surgery is done with an outpatient stay. Other, more extensive spine surgeries will require longer stays.

Once out of the hospital, follow your doctor's instructions to take care of your spine. You should protect your spine by avoiding twisting or bending motions that place stress on the surgical site. You may be referred for physical and/or occupational therapy to help you during your rehabilitation.

Your recovery depends upon several factors. Your age, health before the surgery, and how well you follow your doctor's instructions will impact your results. Full recovery may take between 2 to 6 months.

Complications
As with all surgical procedures, there are risks related to a discectomy. Complications include infection, injury to blood vessels, blood clots, continued pain, and injury to the nerve roots, which can cause paralysis or loss of bladder control. Talk with your doctor about the risks of this surgery.