When physical therapy and medication have not gotten rid of the pain, numbness, or weakness in your back, leg, or arm, you might consider a surgical approach. At the Spine Hospital at Mount Sinai, our surgeons often use a discectomy procedure to treat the condition causing these symptoms. Discectomy, defined as removing the disc, is one of the most commonly performed procedures in the country.

Conditions Treated by Discectomy

The spine is comprised of 26 vertebrae, or bones, separated by discs, which consist of a tough outer shell and a soft inner portion. Discs serve as the spine’s shock absorber to keep vertebrae from rubbing against each other, which can cause pain and discomfort.

Aging and injury can cause the outer shell of the disc to crack or tear, allowing the soft inside portion to bulge out and press against the spinal nerves. Pressure on the spinal nerves can cause pain and discomfort. When a disc becomes displaced in this way, it is called a herniated disc, slipped disc, ruptured disc, bulging disc, or disc prolapse.

At Mount Sinai, we typically use discectomy to treat a herniated disc. Our surgeons recommend a discectomy if you have experienced some of the following symptoms for six weeks or more.

  • Significant back pain
  • Weakness or numbness in the leg or foot
  • More pain in the leg or foot than in the back

Surgical Approach

Our surgeons use a variety of tools and techniques to perform a discectomy, depending on the circumstances. An open discectomy involves a skin incision. A microdiscectomy is a minimally invasive procedure.

A discectomy involves removing only the portion of the disc that is pinching on the nerve. However, if the surgeon must remove the entire disc, it may be necessary to fill that space with a piece of bone, typically from your pelvis or from a bone bank, to keep the other discs in position. The surgeon will connect the new bone to the adjacent vertebrae with metal rods and screws.

After Surgery

Many people go home on the day of the discectomy. Most patients experience considerable relief. Patients typically return to work within two to six weeks of the procedure. You should limit lifting, bending, and stooping for at least a month after the procedure.

To prevent recurrence of the pain or discomfort, our surgeons recommend these lifestyle changes:

  • Weight loss
  • Low-impact exercise routine
  • Limit extensive bending, twisting, or lifting