Why is discectomy performed?
A discectomy is performed for patients with herniated, extruded or degenerated discs that are causing significant symptoms, such as sciatica or other pain that is radiating into the legs and arms. When discs become herniated, extruded or bulging, they can press on nerves or cause inflammation and swelling that can crowd nerves. This results in shooting pain, dull aching sensations, and weakness or numbness in the arms or legs.
In disc degeneration, injury, wear and tear, or other factors cause discs to lose volume over time, resulting in inflammation and localized instability, both of which can irritate or impinge on nerves. Patients who undergo a discectomy have already tried more conservative approaches such as physical therapy or anti-inflammatory medications for a prolonged period without achieving resolution of symptoms.
How is a discectomy performed?
A discectomy is typically performed using sedation, which means patients avoid the potential complications associated with general anesthesia. During the procedure, a small incision is made above the damaged disc and a thin wire is inserted and advanced until it comes in contact with the spine. The wire is guided using a fluoroscope to ensure it reaches the target area. After the wire is in place, a thin, flexible tube called a trocar is inserted through the incision using the wire as a guide. Once the tube reaches the damaged disc, it can be used to introduce the endoscope as well as specially-designed surgical instruments so the disc can be removed. The fluoroscope provides additional guidance throughout the procedure.
Dr. Jenkins may recommend a discectomy in order to treat the pain caused by a herniated or bulging disc. A discectomy will relieve the pressure that the disc overlap is putting on the spinal nerves.
Typically, most patients will try other, more conservative, treatment options like steroid injections or physical therapy before scheduling a surgery. In some cases, a patient is experiencing so much pain that they have difficulty standing or walking due to nerve pain and surgery is the best, most immediate option for pain relief.
What is recovery like?
Most discectomies are performed as outpatient surgeries, which means patients can return home the same day. Although numbness and tingling can take a few weeks to completely resolve, most patients experience significant relief in their pain symptoms soon after their procedure. Some activities, such as twisting, bending and lifting, will need to be avoided for a few weeks after the procedure to enable the area to heal properly.
Patients with relatively sedentary jobs are usually able to return to work, at least part-time, within a couple of weeks. Most patients can resume their regular activities within about six weeks.
Physical therapy may also be used during recovery to help strengthen the back muscles and increase mobility and flexibility throughout the back. A physical therapist can also provide guidance and advice about changes in work and lifestyle habits that can help you avoid disc injuries in the future.
Will insurance cover the procedure?
Many insurance companies offer coverage for discectomies when certain criteria are met, such as a failure of more conservative treatments to achieve a beneficial effect. Coverage limits can vary, so it’s important to ask your insurance company about your coverage prior to your procedure.