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What is a discectomy?

Discectomy is the surgical removal of part or all of a spinal disc. A discectomy treats degenerated, herniated (prolapsed, bulging or slipped), or ruptured spinal discs. Spinal discs are located between each vertebra of your spine and act as cushions to protect your spine. A herniated disc can press against the spinal cord or the nerves that fan out from the spinal cord. It can relieve nerve compression and pain caused by a herniated disc.

Discectomy is a common but major surgery with significant risks and potential complications. You may have less invasive treatment options. Consider getting a second opinion about all your treatment choices before having a discectomy. 

Types of discectomy

The types of discectomy procedures include:

  • Cervical discectomy is the removal of a disc in the neck area (cervical spine).
  • Lumbar discectomy is the removal of a disc in the lower back (lumbar spine).
  • Sacral discectomy is the removal of a disc in the back between your pelvic, or hipbones (sacral spine).
  • Thoracic discectomy is the removal of a disc in the middle part of the back (thoracic spine).

Other surgical procedures that may be performed

Your doctor may perform other procedures in addition to a discectomy to treat certain conditions. These include:

  • Foraminotomy is the widening of the opening where the nerve roots leave the spinal canal. Your doctor may use this procedure when the opening (foramina) is narrowed causing pressure on the spinal nerves.
  • Laminectomy is the removal of a bony area called the lamina. The lamina is the back part of each vertebra of the spine. A laminectomy can relieve pressure in your spinal canal or on your spinal nerves. This may be necessary to access your spinal disc.
  • Spinal fusion is the permanent joining together of two vertebrae. This procedure permanently stops movement between the two vertebrae.
Medical Reviewers: Daphne E. Hemmings, MD, MPH Last Review Date: Jul 12, 2013

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Medical References

Alleyne CH Jr, Rodts GE Jr. Current and Future Approaches to Lumbar Disc Surgery (A Literature Review). Emory University School of Medicine. http://www.ipcaz.org/pages/print/lumbar-disc-surgery.pdf. Accessed May 2, 2013.
Herniated Disk. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00334. Accessed May 2, 2013.
Open Discectomy. North American Spine Society. http://www.knowyourback.org/Pages/Treatments/SurgicalOptions/LumbarDiscectomy.aspx. Accessed May 2, 2013.
Pile, JC. Evaluating postoperative fever: A focused approach. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. 2006;73 (Suppl 1):S62. http://ccjm.org/content/73/Suppl_1/S62.full.pdf. Accessed May 2, 2013.
Posterior Lumbar Discectomy. Mayfield Clinic for Brain and Spine. http://www.mayfieldclinic.com/PE-LumDiscectomy.htm. Accessed May 2, 2013.
Vollmer, DG and Simmons, NE. Transthoracic Approaches to Thoracic Disc Herniations. Neurosurg Focus 2000;9 (4):E8. http://thejns.org/doi/pdf/10.3171/foc.2000.9.4.8. Accessed May 2, 2013.
Ullrich PF Jr. ACDF: Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion. Spine-Health. http://www.spine-health.com/treatment/back-surgery/acdf-anterior-cervical-discectomy-and-fusion. Accessed May 2, 2013.

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