A low back problem can cause pain when you sit, stand, or walk. Sometimes these symptoms are due to pressure on a nerve from a bone spur (a growth on the bone) or a damaged disc. Discs are soft pads of tissue that act as shock absorbers between the bones, called vertebrae, that make up the spine.
If you have a disc problem, you may feel pain, burning, tingling, or numbness. If there’s pressure on a nerve that connects to the sciatic nerve, you may feel these symptoms down your leg. To help treat your problem, your doctor may recommend a type of surgical procedure called a microdiscectomy.
What Happens During a Microdiscectomy?
During a microdiscectomy, various techniques, called decompression, may be used to relieve pressure on a nerve. You and your surgeon will discuss what will be done during your individual procedure. If a disc is damaged or pressing on a nerve, part of it may be removed.
To reach the spine, the surgeon makes a small incision in your low back. All of the surgery is done through this incision. The surgeon will look through a special microscope to view your spine in detail.
In most cases, a laminotomy is done first to expose the disc. A laminotomy removes a small portion of the lamina, which is a part of the vertebra, from the vertebrae above and below the pinched nerve.
Then, any part of the disc that presses on a nerve is removed. Disc matter that is loose or may cause problems in the future is also taken out. Enough disc is left in place to cushion the vertebrae.
What Happens After a Microdiscectomy?
Recovery from a microdiscectomy is individual, but most people go home the same day as surgery. In some cases, a stay of a night or two is needed.
You’ll have an IV in place for most of your hospital stay. You may also have a thin tube, or catheter, in your bladder to drain urine. You may be wearing compression stockings or boots that help prevent blood clots in your legs.
Within hours after surgery, you can expect to be up and walking. This helps blood flow and recovery time. A physical therapist may meet with you to discuss a program of strength exercises for you to follow during your recovery.
After surgery, fluid can collect in the lungs, so you will be encouraged to breathe deeply and cough several times per hour or more. You may be given an incentive spirometer, a device to help you breathe in and out the right way to help expand your lungs. A nurse or respiratory therapist will show you how to use the device.
Recovery After Microdiscectomy
As you recover, you will gradually return to your normal routine. It may take a month or two for complete healing.
While you’re recovering at home, follow all the instructions you’re given, including:
- Take all pain medications as directed.
- Follow instructions to avoid heavy lifting and other strenuous activities.
- Return to activity slowly. Ask your surgeon how long and how often you should take walks.
Follow-up visits allow your surgeon to make sure that your back is healing well after microdiscectomy. If you had stitches or staples, these may be removed one to two weeks after surgery. After your back is healed, more physical therapy may be prescribed to help you regain range of motion and strength.
Planning ahead for your surgery will help you recover more smoothly. Know the risks of surgery, which may include bleeding, infection, or continued pain, and be sure you understand what the procedure can and can’t do for you. If you have questions, have your doctor answer them before your surgery.