Discectomy Overview

A discectomy treats a pinched lumbar nerve. During the procedure, portions of nerve compressing intervertebral disc are carefully removed and the nerve is decompressed. Symptoms dramatically decrease shortly after surgery. Carolina Orthopaedic and Neurosurgical Associates’ (CONA) spine specialists are discectomy experts.


This is one of the most common surgeries performed by spine surgeons, used as a minimally invasive procedure to remove the damaged portion of herniated discs of the spine. This approach to this procedure allows for a quicker recovery and less downtime.

Discectomy is the surgical removal of the damaged portion of a herniated disc in the spine. A herniated disc occurs when some of the softer material of the disc pushes out through a crack in the tougher outside of the disc; this can irritate nearby nerves and cause pain, numbness, or weakness. A discectomy is important for the relief of herniated discs.

How is discectomy performed?

A discectomy is under general anesthesia. A CONA spine specialist:

  1. Begins surgery. Muscles and tissues are gently retracted to view the pinched nerve.
  2. Decompresses the nerve. Tiny instruments remove pieces of the nerve-compressing disc and arthritic bone.
  3. Ends surgery. Absorbable stitches close tissue layers and removable ones close the skin. A sterile dressing is placed on the surgical site.

Total procedure time is 1 – 1 ½ hours.

What conditions can discectomy treat?

A discectomy may be recommended to treat a severely herniated disc that does not respond to nonsurgical treatment options.

Discectomy vs. Fusion

While a lumbar spinal fusion can stabilize the spine and reduce pain and weakness from a herniated disc, discectomy is the most common surgical approach due to its less invasive procedure. A discectomy also preserves the range of motion and movement, has a shorter recovery period, and tends to have fewer complications post-surgery.

What are discectomy advantages?

Discectomy advantages include:

  • Minimal surgical trauma to large spine muscles
  • Fast symptom relief
  • Return to normal activities with minimal to no restrictions after recovery

What is discectomy recovery like?

Discectomy is performed on an outpatient or inpatient basis. Hospital stays are usually 1-3 nights. Patients see their CONA specialist two weeks, 1, 3, 6 and 8 months after surgery. X-rays and neurosurgical and physical examinations show improvements. Physical therapy helps to regain strength after surgery. CONA specialists explain every step of the recovery process during initial discectomy consultations.

Recovery takes about 1 to 4 weeks depending on the underlying issue that may have caused the herniated disc. The pain someone experienced before surgery may not immediately be eliminated after surgery. Recurrences of back pain are common, however, there are ways to help prevent this recurrence, including but not limited to:

  • Proper lifting techniques
  • Good posture during sitting, standing, moving, and sleeping
  • Appropriate exercise program
  • Healthy weight
  • No smoking
  • Positive attitude and relaxation techniques, like for stress management

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