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What is Involved in Back Surgery for a Herniated Disc?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 December 2016
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A herniated disc in the spine occurs when the gel-like fluid between vertebrae — known as a spinal disc — ruptures, and that fluid begins to press against the nerves that run through the spine. The fluid can also press against the spinal cord itself, leading pain as well as neurological problems. Back surgery for a herniated disc is a last resort and is usually only attempted if the nerves in the spine are so compressed that regular motor functions are affected severely. A back surgery for a herniated disc is known as a discectomy, and the process involves removing all or part of the spinal disc to relieve pressure on the nerves and spinal cord.

Back surgery for a herniated disc is an open surgery — that is, a large incision must be cut into the skin so the surgeon can access the spine. This is done after the patient has been placed under general anesthesia. The incision allows the surgeon to look at the spine itself after carefully cutting away muscle and ligaments. The parts of the spinal disc that are herniated are then removed, and if any other parts of the herniated disc look like they might rupture at some point in the future, the surgeon may choose to remove those fragments as well. The incision is then sealed and properly bandaged. The surgery generally takes one to two hours depending on the severity of the herniation.

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Another type of back surgery for a herniated disc avoids cutting an incision and instead uses a smaller hole through which a camera is inserted. The surgeon can see the spine on a monitor connected to the camera, and through another small incision, the instruments used to pull out the fragments are inserted. This is a far less invasive surgery, and the recovery time is much shorter than an open surgery, but an open surgery is often the better option because the surgeon has more access to the spine and is less likely to miss any possible herniated fragments.

Recovery time after back surgery for a herniated disc can take several weeks to months as the muscles and ligaments in the back heal. Most people who undergo such a surgery will find relief from their previous symptoms, but a smaller number may not. A subsequent herniated disc is also possible. During recovery, the patient should avoid as much movement as possible for several days to weeks, and a back brace may help the patient function more painlessly.

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Mykol
Post 4

@bagley79-- I think everyone is different when it comes to the amount of back pain they are willing to deal with. I know people who have had back surgery and really aren't much better off.

I have also talked to others who said they wished they had the surgery sooner than they did. For a long time I have taken medication and physical therapy as a part of my herniated lumbar disc treatment.

My doctor is also recommending I have surgery and has clearly explained to me all of the pros and cons. I know if I go ahead with the surgery it will be a long recovery time. I also think there will be some pain and discomfort that I may continue to deal with.

Most days I wear a back brace to help ease the pain, and even after surgery, I think this is something I will still need from time to time.

bagley79
Post 3

My doctor is recommending I have a dicsectomy, and says this will not be an open surgery, but he will use a camera to go in and see what he needs to remove.

This sounds like a much better option than an open surgery for herniated disc treatment. How do you know when it is time to have surgery? I have been trying to avoid surgery for as long as possible, but am getting closer to making that appointment every day.

John57
Post 2

I also had surgery for a herniated disc and the recovery was a long, slow process. Before surgery I tried many different herniated disc treatment options, but nothing seemed to work for the long term.

I was pretty scared about having surgery and wondered if it would make that much difference. I am not one who likes to sit around much, and it was hard for me to rest for long periods of time like that.

My surgery was successful, for the most part, and I would say that the procedure and recovery time was worth it over all.

myharley
Post 1

If you struggle with back pain like I did, you know how frustrating it can be to live with the pain and limit your activities. I was unable to do a lot of activities I enjoyed doing because of the herniated discs in my back.

When I had herniated disc surgery, I knew I would not be able to go back to those activities, but I also knew I needed to do something about the constant pain.

I had an open surgery because the doctor wanted a good look at my spine and to make sure he got everything out of there that wasn't supposed to be there. There are many times when I would love to get on a snowmobile or ride a horse for a couple of hours, but I don't want to put up with the consequences of back problems by doing so.

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