What is a discectomy?

A discectomy is a spinal surgery to treat a slipped (herniated) disc. To relieve pressure caused by a slipped disc, your doctor may remove:

  • Part of your slipped disc
  • Your entire slipped disc

If the entire disc must be removed, it can be replaced by another piece of bone or an interbody cage. An interbody cage is a hollow cylinder that is typically filled with bone fragments. It enables 2 vertebrae to grow through the holes and fuse together.

Types of discectomy

In general, there are 5 types of discectomy:

Lumbar discectomy

Lumbar discectomy removes part of the herniated disc to relieve pressure on the nerve. The procedure is performed on the lower back (lumbar spine) and can be an open surgery or minimally invasive 'keyhole' surgery.

Posterior cervical discectomy

Performed on the neck area, a cervical discectomy is used to remove a disc from the cervical spine. This procedure often fuses 2 cervical vertebrae with an implant or artificial disc.

Anterior cervical discectomy

Similar to a cervical discectomy, an anterior cervical discectomy removes a disc from the cervical spine. Instead of accessing the area through the back, this procedure accesses the spine through the throat area instead.

Microendoscopic discectomy

Microendoscopic discectomy is a minimally invasive procedure that uses small incisions to perform a discectomy. In contrast, 'open' surgeries use larger incisions to view and treat the area directly. Larger incisions enable improved exposure of the affected disc directly.

Discectomy fusion

A discectomy fusion connects 2 vertebrae into a single piece of bone. This procedure may use interbody cages or bones.

Why do you need a discectomy?

Discectomy is an option if non-surgical alternatives such as physiotherapy, exercise and anti-inflammatory medicines are unsuccessful.

What are the risks and complications of a discectomy?

This procedure is generally considered safe and effective. Like all surgical procedures, however, there are some general risks, such as:

  • Infection
  • Blood clots
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Allergic reaction to anaesthesia

In a discectomy, the risks also include damage to the nerves in the spine or spinal fluid leakage.

This page has been reviewed by our medical content reviewers.

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