If a disc in the spine herniates, a doctor may recommend herniated disc surgery. Understanding more about what happens when discs herniate, as well as the treatment options available, can help you know if surgery might be right for you or a family member — now or in the future.
When a Disc Herniates
Spinal discs are spongy cushions located between the vertebrae. If discs become worn or injured, the bones of the vertebra can rub together leading to pain and other problems.
Discs can also become herniated (pressed out from between the bones). Sometimes, herniated discs can rupture. When a disc ruptures in this way, it may pinch nerves, leading to pain, weakness and numbness. A herniated disc is also referred to as a “slipped,” “ruptured” or “prolapsed” disc.
Symptoms of a Herniated Disc
If symptoms don’t improve after a few months, a doctor or surgeon may recommend a type of herniated disc surgery. The goal of herniated disc surgery is to take pressure off of the nerves that are being irritated by the damaged disc.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with one or some of the following issues, herniated disc surgery could be the best option:
- Difficulty standing or walking
- Difficulty sleeping due to spine pain
- Inability to perform daily activities
- Pain, in addition to numbness or weakness
- Issues with incontinence (bowel and bladder control)
Treatment for Disc Herniation
Every patient with a herniated disc has unique circumstances and challenges related to the disc. For instance, some ruptures may happen to the lumber (lower) discs and may be severe. Other ruptures may occur farther up the spine and may be mild.
Fortunately, there are several different surgeries doctors can use to treat herniated discs.
During this procedure, the herniated disc is removed. Depending on the patient, the surgeon may be able to use a minimally invasive procedure called microdiscectomy. This surgical option involves smaller incisions than traditional surgery, and the surgeon may remove all or just part of the damaged material. The traditional surgery, called open discectomy, is also an option.
Lamina is a term used to describe bone tissue that protects the spinal cord. Sometimes it needs to be removed so the surgeon can access and treat a herniated disc. When only part of the lamina is removed, it is called a laminotomy. When all or most of it is removed, the procedure is called a laminectomy.
Depending on the patient, there may need to be two separate procedures: one to address the lamina and another to remove the herniated disc.
Another surgery option is a spinal fusion. This procedure happens after a discectomy or laminotomy. During spinal fusion, the surgeon fuses the two vertebrae on either side of the disc, so they heal into a single bone. A fusion is used to stabilize the bones and reduce or eliminate pain.
Artificial Disc Replacement
As an alternative to spinal fusion, sometimes a damaged disc can be replaced with an artificial one. However, this surgery can only be used on the lumbar vertebrae (the discs at the bottom of the spine).
After Herniated Disc Surgery
Herniated disc surgery can relieve pain, weakness and numbness. However, as with any surgery, patients need to practice proper self-care during recovery and rehabilitation. This means consistently following doctors’ instructions, taking proper doses of medications, walking when instructed, attending physical therapy and performing prescribed exercises.