This procedure is performed with the objective of restoring mobility and relieving discomfort to patients suffering from disc herniation. It involves partial or complete removal of an intervertebral disc which has ruptured and thus been pushed out of proper alignment.
The Cause of Pain and Solution
Typically there is a disc herniation on one side of the spinal canal causing pain, numbness, weakness or a combination of these symptoms down one leg, although less commonly both legs may be involved. A “herniation” is when something protrudes through something else. The spinal disc sits between the bones in your spine (vertebral bodies) and acts as a cushion, giving your spine the ability to bend in different directions.
Needless to say, discs are under a lot of pressure; often above 100 pounds per square inch (your car tires have about 30 psi). Unfortunately, as we age, our discs start to “degenerate” or “wear out.” This disrupts the spines ability to withstand such large degrees of pressure. The disc is made up of two parts, a tough outer ring (annulus fibrosus) and a soft inner core (nucleus pulposus). Both parts deteriorate with age but when the annulus gives out, part of the nucleus can sneak through (herniation) and put pressure on the adjacent nerve. During discectomy, it is this piece of the nucleus which is removed, not the whole disc.
What to Expect
If you have only leg symptoms prior to this procedure you are likely to have near complete relief following surgery. On the other hand, if you have back and leg symptoms, you may be left with back pain even if your leg symptoms have subsided. It is believed that this is because the disc is now atypical, having herniated and undergone surgery. This disc will continue to degenerate and could potentially be painful in the future.