Diskectomy 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 and cause pain, numbness or weakness. These symptoms can affect your neck or back or may radiate down your arms or legs.
Diskectomy works best on radiating symptoms. It’s less helpful for actual back pain or neck pain. Most people who have back pain or neck pain find relief with more-conservative treatments, such as pain medications or physical therapy.
Your doctor may suggest diskectomy if conservative, nonsurgical treatments haven’t worked or if your symptoms worsen. There are several ways to perform a diskectomy. Many surgeons now prefer minimally invasive diskectomy, which uses small incisions and a tiny video camera for viewing.
Why It’s Done
A diskectomy is performed to relieve the pressure a herniated disk (also called 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.
Your doctor may recommend diskectomy if:
- You have trouble standing or walking because of nerve weakness
- Conservative treatment, such as medication or physical therapy, fails to improve your symptoms after six weeks
- A disk fragment lodges in your spinal canal, pressing on a nerve
- Pain radiating into your buttocks, legs, arms or chest becomes too much to manage
Diskectomy is considered a safe procedure. But as with any surgery, diskectomy carries a risk of complications. Potential complications include:
- Leaking spinal fluid
- Injury to blood vessels or nerves in and around the spine
- Injury to the protective layer surrounding the spine
Diskectomy reduces herniated disk symptoms in most people who have clear signs of nerve compression, such as radiating pain. However, diskectomy may not be a permanent cure, because it doesn’t do anything to reverse the process that allowed the disk to become herniated in the first place. To avoid re-injuring your spine, your doctor may recommend weight loss, a low-impact exercise program, and ask that you limit some activities that involve extensive or repetitive bending, twisting or lifting.