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Lumbar Discectomy

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.

What do I need to know about lumbar discectomy?

A lumbar discectomy is the removal of part of a ruptured lumbar disc. The lumbar area is the low back. Your surgeon will remove the part that is pressing, pinching, or irritating your nerve root. A lumbar discectomy may be done when no other treatment relieves your symptoms.

How do I prepare for lumbar discectomy?

Your surgeon will talk to you about how to prepare for surgery. Your surgeon may tell you not to eat or drink anything after midnight on the day of your surgery. Your surgeon will tell you what medicines to take or not take on the day of your surgery. You may be told to stop taking medicines that may cause bleeding. Examples include aspirin and ibuprofen. Your surgeon will tell you to stop smoking at least 24 hours before your surgery. Make arrangements for someone to drive you home after your surgery. Ask the person to stay with you for at least 24 hours.

What will happen during lumbar discectomy?

  • You may be given an antibiotic through your IV to help prevent a bacterial infection. You may be given general anesthesia to keep you asleep and free from pain during surgery. You may instead be given spinal anesthesia to numb the area from your waist down.
  • Your surgeon will talk to you about the type of surgery you will have. The main types are open and microdiscectomy. In an open surgery, your surgeon will make an incision through to your spine. Your surgeon will cut through muscles and ligaments. Then your surgeon will remove the damaged part of your disc. Your surgeon may need to remove part of your vertebrae (bones in your spine) in order to reach the damage. Your incision will be closed with stitches.
  • In a microdiscectomy, your surgeon will make a small incision over the damaged disc. Your surgeon will then move the muscles and ligaments to one side. Your surgeon will use a microscopic lens to see the nerve root. The nerve root will be moved to the side. Tools will be used to remove all or part of the damaged disc. The inside of the incision may be closed with stitches that will absorb. The outside of the incision may be closed with medical glue. Steristrips will be placed to help keep your incision closed.

What will happen after lumbar discectomy?

You may have muscle spasms in your low back, thighs, and buttocks after surgery. These should go away within a few days. This does not mean your surgery did not work. You will have pain. You will be given pain medicine to keep you comfortable. You will need to use proper body mechanics when you move. This means keeping your shoulders and hips in a straight line. Proper body mechanics can help lower pain and remove stress on your back as you move. Do not twist, bend, or pull on anything to stand or move. You may need to use an assistive device to walk, such as a walker.

What are the risks of lumbar discectomy?

There is a risk of infection at the incision site and deep in the disc space. The protective layer of your spinal cord may tear or leak. This causes cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to leak. You may have to lie flat for up to 7 days while the tear or leak heals. You may need disc surgery again. You may need surgery to remove your discs and fuse your vertebrae together. This surgery would limit movement in your back.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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