What is discectomy?

Discectomy is the surgery of total or partial removal of the discs, the cushions that separate the vertebrae from each other. The operation is performed under spinal or general anesthesia.

Why is discectomy performed?

The surgery is performed when the patient has a hernia in one of his or her spinal discs, that is, when the cushion that helps separate the vertebrae (bones of the spine) has slipped, totally or partially, out of place. This produces pain in the back that spreads to the legs, and causes intense weakness in the muscles.

What does discectomy consist of?

The surgical procedure allows the removal of part or all of this cushion to end the pain. The surgery (which lasts about two hours) requires hospitalization of the patient and spinal or general anesthesia. The specialist makes a cut in the back and, through a microscope, locates the damaged discs; once removed, the wound is sutured with stitches or staples.

Preparation for discectomy

First of all, it is necessary to inform the specialist what medicines you are taking, even if they are bought without prescription or if they are herbs. During the days prior to surgery it is recommended:

  • Prepare the house for when you return from the hospital.
  • Stop smoking
  • Stop taking medications that make it difficult for your blood to clot.
  • Inform the specialist about any illness you have had or if you have been drinking alcohol lately.
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On the day of surgery, the advice to follow is:

  • Follow instructions on when to stop eating and drinking.
  • Take the medicines prescribed by the specialist.
  • Bring a cane, walking stick or wheelchair.
  • Wear flat-soled, non-skid shoes.

Care after the operation

Recovery after discectomy is usually quick. In fact, the specialist asks the patient to get up and walk around as soon as the anesthesia wears off, and he or she usually returns home the same day as the surgery. Pain, weakness or numbness may be felt at first, but should disappear over the next few weeks.

For optimal recovery, walking as often as possible is recommended, and a rehabilitation program including physical therapy and home exercises may also be required. As for returning to work, if it is in an office setting, you can return to work in two to four weeks; if it is a strenuous job, you can return in four to eight weeks.