When you have a herniated disk in your spine, it can compress nerves near your spinal cord and cause severe pain that radiates down your arms or legs. Diskectomy is a surgery that’s often recommended to treat this type of pain, so much so that it’s the most common spinal surgery in the United States.
Though this surgery can be very effective in treating arm and leg pain caused by a herniated disk, it may not give as much relief to your actual back or neck pain. To help with those issues, your doctor may recommend physical therapy or other non-surgical treatments in addition to your diskectomy.
Read on for a breakdown of what happens during diskectomy surgery, when you may need it, and what the recovery is like.
What is a herniated disk?
Herniated disks are one of the most common causes of pain in the back, neck, and legs. Typically, herniated disks can heal on their own without spinal surgery. However, that’s not always the case. If you’re looking at diskectomy surgery, it’s probably because your herniated disk hasn’t gone away with at-home treatments.
A herniated disk is a type of spinal injury. It may also be called a bulging, ruptured, or slipped disk. The disks in your spine act as cushions between each of your vertebrae. They allow your spine to move without the bones rubbing against each other. A herniated disk is when one of these disks either leaks or tears. This puts pressure on the nerves around your spinal cord.
Herniated disks can be caused by aging, lifting heavy objects, being overweight, repetitive bending or twisting motions, and sitting in the same position for long periods of time. Signs that you may have a herniated disk include:
- Back or neck pain
- Shooting pain down your arms or legs
- Pain around your shoulder blades
- Pain when you bend or turn your neck
- Tingling or numbness in your arms, legs, or feet
You may be able to treat your herniated disk without surgery by taking pain medications, doing exercises to strengthen your back, and attending physical therapy. Your doctor may even recommend just taking it easy and letting the disk heal on its own. However, if your symptoms don’t improve, or they get worse over time, you may need diskectomy surgery.
What happens during diskectomy surgery?
Depending on the nature of your herniated disk, your diskectomy can be performed in one of a few different ways. Most are minimally invasive and take about one to two hours to complete. During the surgery, you will be under anesthesia and won’t feel any pain.
If you have an open diskectomy, your surgeon will make an incision on your back or neck. This gives them a clear view of the disk they’ll be operating on. They operate through the incision, using surgical instruments to either trim away part of the herniated disk or remove it entirely.
In a microdiskectomy, your surgeon will make multiple smaller incisions in your back. They’ll insert a small camera through one of them and use the video feed to observe the surgery. The other incisions are for the surgical instruments that they’ll need to remove part or all of the affected disk.
During either type of procedure, the surgeon may also need to remove a part of your vertebrae called the lamina (this procedure is called a laminotomy). If the entire disk is removed, they may replace it with a bone graft. This graft will help to fuse the two surrounding vertebrae together and add strength and stability to your spine. This procedure is called spinal fusion.
What should you expect after diskectomy surgery?
Diskectomy surgery has high success rates for people whose pain is caused by compressed nerves in the spine. Pain, numbness, or tingling caused by the herniated disk should go away during your recovery from the surgery. However, the procedure doesn’t address the cause of the herniated disk. It is possible to reinjure your spine and need additional treatment.
Immediately after your surgery, you’ll be moved into a recovery room. Your medical team will monitor you as the anesthesia wears off. Unless you have pre-existing conditions or complications that make further medical care necessary, you should be able to go home the same day.
During your recovery, your doctor will ask you to walk every day to help increase blood flow and speed up the healing process. They may also give you physical therapy exercises to help strengthen your back muscles as you heal. You should take care to avoid heavy lifting or strenuous activities, such as running, biking, or aerobic exercise, until your doctor clears you for physical activity.
Recovery after a diskectomy can take up to a month or longer. For the best chance of a healthy, fast recovery, be easy on yourself. Don’t try to push yourself to do physical activity before you’re ready. Having patience during your recovery will help you get back to normal, so you can live life to the fullest without the constant pain of a herniated disk.
The first step to getting diskectomy surgery is finding a surgeon and healthcare facility that you trust. New Choice Health’s Spine Surgery Assist program can help with that. Fill out this simple form today, and one of our Care Coordinators will reach out to you with information about cost, financing, discounts, and healthcare providers for your procedure.