Lumbar Discectomy

A lumbar discectomy is a surgical procedure that removes part of a herniated, or ruptured, disc which pads and separates the vertebrae in the lower back. This alleviates pressure placed on the nerve root.

What to expect

Lumbar discectomy is usually performed under general anesthesia while the patient is lying face down or in a kneeling position. During the procedure, the surgeon will make a small incision in the skin over the affected area of the spine. Muscle tissue is removed from the bone above and below the affected disc while retractors hold the muscle and skin away from the area so the surgeon has a clear view of the vertebrae and disc. In some cases, bone and ligaments may have to be removed for the surgeon to be able to gain access to the disc without damaging the nerve tissue.

Once the surgeon can see the vertebrae, disc and other surrounding structures, he or she will remove the section of the disc that is protruding from the disc wall and any other disc fragments that may have broken off from the disc. Some surgeons will implant a special foam pad or piece of fat over the nerve to prevent scar tissue from growing onto the nerve. The incision is then closed with sutures and the patient is taken to a recovery room.

How to prepare

Patients will be examined prior to surgery to ensure they are healthy enough for the procedure. Smokers should cut down or stop in the days before the surgery. Do not eat or drink anything after midnight the night before. Loose clothing is recommended for ease of dressing after the procedure, and arrangements should be made for a ride home. The doctor will advise the patient of any medications prohibited before the surgery.