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What is a Microdiscectomy?

A microdiscectomy, also known as microdecompression spine surgery, is a surgical procedure that removes part of an impinged intervertebral disc in order to relieve pain, weakness and numbness throughout the body. It is usually reserved for patients with severe symptoms that do not respond to more conservative treatments, and significantly affect the patient’s quality of life.

Microdiscectomy surgery relieves:

The microdiscectomy procedure is most effective in relieving lower back and leg pain caused by lumbar disc herniation, although it may be performed in the cervical and thoracic spine as well. A herniated disc is a common condition that occurs as a result of gradual wear and tear or an injury to the intervertebral discs, causing it to bulge and break open. Patients with this condition often experience pain, numbness and weakness in the affected area, as well as through the legs or arms, depending on the location of the disc.

Indications for Microdiscectomy

Symptoms caused by a disc herniation often improve through conservative treatments or on its own. However, patients experiencing leg pain and numbness for more than six weeks may benefit from surgery. Surgery may also be recommended for severe pain that interferes with a patient’s ability to function normally. It is important for patients to be healthy enough to undergo major surgery and a rehabilitation program, as well as to have realistic expectations for the outcome of this procedure.

While surgery is not needed in all cases, microdiscectomy is considered a highly effective option that can relieve pain quickly. Your doctor will determine whether or not this procedure is right for you after a thorough evaluation of your condition.

Microdiscectomy Procedure

During the microdiscectomy procedure, an incision is made in the back at the location of the affected disc, and the muscles are lifted away to access the spine. Small surgical instruments and a microscope are inserted into this incision to repair the affected disc using minimally invasive techniques. Once the targeted nerve root is identified, the disc is removed from under the root, and a small portion of the facet joint may be removed as well to relieve pressure on the nerve.

The muscles are then placed back in their original position and the incision closed with sutures. This procedure is performed under general anesthesia in a hospital setting. A short hospital stay is often required after surgery.

Recovery from Microdiscectomy Surgery

After the microdiscectomy procedure, patients will be encouraged to get up and walk around shortly after surgery. You will likely experience pain and other side effects, which can be managed through medication provided by your doctor.

Patients can benefit from a customized physical therapy and exercise program during recovery to help restore strength and flexibility and to reduce recurring back pain or disc herniation. These programs usually start with walking and can progress to bicycling and swimming within a few weeks. Your doctor will provide individualized post-operative instructions for each patient.

Results from Microdiscectomy Surgery

Most patients notice significant improvements in pain and were satisfied with the results of their procedure. This procedure provides comparable results with shorter recovery times than an open discectomy procedure. You will likely be able return to work in two to four weeks, although for jobs that require physical labor, this may take four to eight weeks.

Risks of Microdiscectomy

As with any type of surgical procedure, there are certain risks associated with a microdiscectomy, such as infection, bleeding, incontinence, nerve damage and cerebrospinal fluid leak. These risks are considered rare, and can be further reduced by choosing a skilled and experienced surgeon to perform your procedure.

At a Glance

Dr. Federico Girardi MD

  • Triple fellowship-trained spinal surgeon
  • Performs over 400 spinal surgeries per year
  • Professor of orthopedic surgery at Cornell University
  • Learn more

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