Herniated discs are a potentially painful problem in which the hard outer coating of the discs, which are the circular pieces of connective tissue that cushion the bones of the spine, are damaged, allowing the discs' jelly-like center to leak, irritating nearby nerves. This causes severe sciatica and nerve pain down the leg. A herniated disc is sometimes called a ruptured disc.
Back surgery options for a herniated disc include:
- Laser surgery.
In this type of back surgery, part of the lamina (a portion of the bone on the back of the vertebrae) is removed, as well as a portion of a ligament. The herniated disc is then removed through the incision, which may extend two or more inches.
As with traditional discectomy, this back surgery involves removing a herniated disc or damaged portion of a disc through an incision in the back. The difference is that the incision is much smaller and the doctor will use a magnifying microscope or lens to locate the disc through the incision. The smaller incision may reduce pain and the disruption of tissues, and it will reduce the size of the surgical scar. It appears to take about the same time to recuperate from a microdiscectomy as from a traditional discectomy.
Technological advances in recent decades have led to the use of lasers for operating on people with herniated discs accompanied by lower back and leg pain. During this back surgery, the surgeon will insert a needle into the disc, which will deliver a few bursts of laser energy to vaporize the tissue in the disc. This will reduce its size and relieve pressure on the nerves. Although many people return to daily activities within three to five days after laser surgery, pain relief may not be apparent until several weeks, or even months, after the surgery. The usefulness of laser discectomy is still being debated.