What is discectomy?

What is discectomy?

Discectomy is a surgical procedure to remove the damaged portion of a herniated disk in your spine. A herniated disk can irritate or compress nearby nerves. Discectomy is most effective for treating pain that radiates down your legs.

Why it’s done

A discectomy is performed to relieve the pressure a herniated disk (also called a slipped, ruptured or bulging disk or disk prolapse) places on a spinal nerve. A herniated disk occurs when some of the softer material inside the disk pushes out through a crack in the tougher exterior.

It is recommended if:

  • You have trouble standing or walking because of nerve weakness
  • Conservative treatment, such as physical therapy or steroid injections, fails to improve your symptoms after six to 12 weeks.
  • Pain radiating into your buttocks, legs, arms or chest becomes too much to manage


Discectomy is considered a safe procedure. But as with any surgery, discectomy carries a risk of complications. Potential complications include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Leaking spinal fluid
  • Injury to blood vessels or nerves in and around the spine

What you can expect

During discectomy

Surgeons usually perform discectomy using general anesthesia, so you’re sleeping during the procedure. Small amounts of spinal bone and ligament may be removed to gain access to the herniated disk.

Ideally, just the fragment of disk that is pinching the nerve is removed, relieving the pressure but leaving most of the disk intact.

After discectomy

After surgery, you’re moved to a recovery room where the health care team watches for you to wake up. You may be healthy enough to go home the same day you have surgery, although a short hospital stay may be necessary – particularly if you have any serious pre-existing medical conditions.

Depending on the amount of lifting, walking and setting your job involves, you may be able to return to work in two to si weeks. If you have a job that includes heavy lifting or operating heavy machinery, your doctor may advise you to wait six to eight weeks before returning to work.

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