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Lumbar microdiscectomy

4-minute read

This page will give you information about a lumbar microdiscectomy. If you have any questions, you should ask your GP or other relevant health professional.

What is a slipped disc?

A slipped disc is where the spongy centre of a disc bulges out and puts pressure on a nerve where it leaves your spine.

Each disc is made up of a tough fibrous outer coat with a soft spongy centre.

Eventually the spongy centre can bulge out and press on a nerve, or some of the spongy centre can squeeze out of the fibrous coat and press directly on a nerve. This is called a slipped disc and it can cause severe pain, as well as weakness and numbness in the area that the compressed nerve supplies.

What are the benefits of surgery?

The aim is to relieve the pressure on the nerve so it can recover. Your symptoms should improve and this should help you to get back to your normal activities.

Illustration of a lumbar microdiscectomy.
a A normal spinal canal and disc
b A disc bulge pressing on a spinal nerve

Are there any alternatives to lumbar microdiscectomy?

For many people, symptoms get better without surgery. Treatment involves painkillers and rest, followed by an exercise programme. If you have a lot of pain, you can also have a steroid injection near the affected nerve into the epidural space (an area near your spine).

What does the operation involve?

Various anaesthetic techniques are possible.

The operation usually takes 45 minutes to an hour. Your surgeon will make a cut on the centre of your back between the vertebrae. They will use an operating microscope to make a hole in the ligament between the vertebrae to show the nerve and the disc. Your surgeon will hold the nerve out of the way and remove the disc.

What complications can happen?

Some of these can be serious and can even cause death.

General complications of any operation

  • pain
  • bleeding
  • unsightly scarring of your skin
  • infection of the surgical site (wound)
  • blood clot in your leg
  • blood clot in your lung
  • difficulty passing urine
  • chest infection
  • heart attack or stroke

Specific complications of this operation

  • worse pain or numbness down your leg
  • numbness between your legs, loss of normal bowel and bladder control and, for men, problems having an erection
  • neuropathic pain. This is a burning pain that may happen once the pressure on the nerves has been released
  • tear of the thin membrane that covers the nerves in your spine

How soon will I recover?

You should be able to go home the same day or the day after.

Keep your wound dry for 10 days.

Do not lift anything heavy or twist your body. Make sure you keep a good posture when sitting and walking.

Regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities as soon as possible. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.

Summary

A slipped disc is where the spongy centre of a disc bulges out and puts pressure on a nerve where it leaves your spine. The aim is to relieve the pressure on the nerve so it can recover.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION
The operation and treatment information on this page is published under license by Healthdirect Australia from EIDO Healthcare Australia and is protected by copyright laws. Other than for your personal, non-commercial use, you may not copy, print out, download or otherwise reproduce any of the information. The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.

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Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2019


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