Back Pain - Lumbar Diskectomy

This surgery involves removing all or part of the disk that cushions or lubricates the bones in the back and protects the spinal column.

This surgery involves removing all or part of the disk that cushions or lubricates the bones in the back and protects the spinal column.

Lumbar diskectomy is surgery to remove all or part of a cushion (intervertebral disk) that separates the bones in the lower back (lumbar vertebrae) and protects the spinal column. Prior to removing the intervertebral disk, the surgeon may also increase the size of the opening that the nerves pass through (foraminotomy), remove part of one or more vertebrae (laminectomy) or join two or more lumbar vertebrae (fusion).

  • A larger traditional incision enables the surgeon to perform these other procedures during the same surgery.
  • In some cases a lumbar diskectomy can be performed using a microscope that is inserted through a small incision (microdiskectomy).

Even without intervention, most episodes of back pain will usually resolve within six to eight weeks. If one of the disks in your spine has moved out of place and is putting pressure on other structures (a herniated disk) it may cause:

  • Low back pain
  • Leg pain, numbness and weakness

To help ease these symptoms, your healthcare provider may recommend medication and specific exercises. A lumbar diskectomy may be recommended if your symptoms:

  • Are severe
  • Do not respond to nonsurgical treatment
  • Cause problems with your daily life and work.

Prior to surgery, tell your healthcare provider about any medications you are taking (including over-the-counter medications and supplements). Ask about specific instructions you should follow before surgery. These may include:

  • Medications you should not take before the surgery, such as blood thinners or aspirin
  • Regular medications you should continue to take on the day of your surgery
  • How many hours you should stop eating and drinking before surgery
  • How to prepare your home for your return after you are discharged
  • Meeting with a physical therapist to learn how to use a back brace and walk with crutches

If you are a smoker, you should quit smoking, as it can interfere with your recovery.

During the surgery you will receive anesthesia to keep you comfortable and pain free.

  • General anesthesia, the most common type of anesthesia for a lumbar diskectomy, is where you are put into a deep sleep and are unable to see, hear, or feel anything.
  • Spinal anesthesia, which may be used during a microdiskectomy, is when you are given an injection of numbing medication into your back and a relaxing medication in your intravenous line. You will be awake during surgery, but will not feel anything below your waist.

A lumbar diskectomy typically takes a few hours. You will probably spend a few days in the hospital after surgery. However, if you have a microdiskectomy, you may be discharged the same day. It may take from a few weeks to a few months before you are back to your normal activity level.

  • While you are in the hospital, the people caring for you will teach you the right way to move, sit, stand and walk after a lumbar fusion.
  • You may have to wear a back brace or cast for a period of time.
  • Physical therapy is often recommended for several weeks after back surgery. This is to help increase your strength and mobility
  • You may also need pain medication and help at home while you recover.
  • It may take from a few weeks to a few months before you are back to your normal activity level.

Do not forget to make arrangements for transportation to and from the facility and help at home.

What should I ask my healthcare provider before having a lumbar diskectomy?

  • What is my diagnosis and reason for the surgery? Are there any less invasive treatments or procedures? If so, what kind?
  • What are the pros and cons of the surgery?
  • What kind of sedation will I have? What are the possible side effects?
  • How will this surgery affect my daily life?
  • What are the possible complications to the surgery?
  • What are the chances the surgery will improve my symptoms?
  • Do you perform outpatient lumbar diskectomies? Is outpatient surgery an option for me?
  • What type of recovery should I expect and how long will it take?
  • If your healthcare provider wants you to take a medication, ask if an over-the-counter product is right for you.
  • If your healthcare provider prescribes a medication for you, ask for a generic version. If your doctor thinks that a generic version is not right for you, ask for a medication on the lowest available tier of your Prescription Drug List (PDL).

After your surgery, you should know what you had done, what medication was given, and what symptoms you should report to your healthcare provider. You should also understand all home care instructions (including medications and side effects) and follow-up plans. Your surgeon should also let your primary care physician know the details of your surgery and treatment plan.


Also known as:

Surgery on Back
Removal of Disk
Pain in Back
Herniated Disk
Back Surgery
Back Pain - Lumbar Diskectomy
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