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What is lumbar discectomy?

Your back is made up of 24 hollow bones held together by fibrous plates called discs. Your discs can become worn or be injured causing the soft centre of the disc to push out of its normal space. This is called a herniated disc.

Lumbar discectomy is a surgical procedure to remove herniated discs in your lower back. Sometimes herniated discs put pressure on the nerves in your spine. This may make you feel pain running over your hip and down your leg called sciatic pain. You may also feel “pins and needles” or numbness in your leg and lower back pain.

Alternatives to lumbar discectomy

When your symptoms first develop your GP may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication and/or physiotherapy. If the pain remains or increases you may be offered an epidural injection.

If your symptoms persist or get worse you may be referred to a spinal consultant. They may order x-rays or an MRI scan. Based on the results of these procedures your consultant may recommend a lumbar discectomy.

Before your lumbar discectomy

Before you come into hospital for your operation, you will be asked questions about your health by one of our nurses. Further "pre-assessment" questions may be asked over the phone, or you might be asked to come into the hospital for some simple tests, such as a blood test, a urine sample or swabs to check for MRSA.

What happens during lumbar discectomy surgery?

Lumbar discectomy is usually performed under general anaesthetic. Your surgeon will make an incision in your lower back near the affected area. They will move the muscles to expose the bones. A very small piece of the bony cover of your spinal cord will be removed so the surgeon can access the herniated disc. They will remove only the herniated portion of the disc relieving the pressure on nearby nerves. The muscles will be moved back in place and both muscle and skin incisions will be closed using stitches. A dressing will be applied to the wound.

What happens during microdiscectomy surgery?

A microdiscectomy is usually performed under general anaesthetic. Your surgeon will make a small incision in your back near the herniated disc. They will insert small surgical instruments into these incisions. A microscope will be used to view the disc and the surrounding area. Only the herniated part of the disc will be removed, relieving the pressure on nearby nerves. The incisions will be closed using stitches or steri-strips. A dressing will be applied to the wound.

After your lumbar discectomy

Immediately after your surgery you will be taken to the recovery area. Staff will monitor your blood pressure, heart rate and breathing. If you are in any pain be sure and tell the recovery room staff. When you are stable a nurse will take you to your room.

Back in your room

Once back in your room, our nursing team will continue to check on you to make sure you are recovering well. After you’ve recovered from any effects of the anaesthetic, you can have something to eat and drink.

In order to prevent blood clots (DVT) you may need to wear support (compression) stockings.

Sometimes patients experience difficulty in passing urine and emptying their bladder following this procedure. Be sure and tell staff if you are in any discomfort. You may need a catheter to help you pass urine in the first few hours following your operation.

A physiotherapist will visit you to teach you some exercises and show you how to move about for the first few weeks. You may be asked to walk up and down stairs prior to discharge.

Going home following lumbar discectomy

Depending on the extent of your surgery you may stay in hospital overnight. You will not be able to drive so please arrange for someone to drive you home. You will be very tired and you may need help with daily activities at first. You should avoid heavy lifting, bending, twisting and sitting for long periods until your followup visit with your surgeon. In addition you should not drive until your followup visit.

You stitches will need to be removed 10-14 days following surgery.

Be sure a discuss your return to work with your surgeon.

If you have any questions or concerns about your restrictions be sure and ask a member of the Healthcare Team or the Physiotherapist.

Most people make a good recovery and return to normal activities following lumbar discectomy. As with any surgery there can be complications:

  • Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Infection of the surgical site (incision)
  • Scarring
  • Blood clots (DVT - deep vein thrombosis)
  • Difficulty passing urine

Specific complications of lumbar discectomy:

  • Continued pain or numbness down your leg
  • Numbness between your legs, loss of normal bowel and bladder control and, in men, problems with having an erection
  • Tear of the thin membrane that covers the nerves in your spine
  • Infection of the intervertebral disc

Why not print this treatment page so you can discuss any concerns you have with your surgeon?

Find your nearest hospital that provides this treatment

67 Lansdowne Road
Bournemouth
BH1 1RW

01202 291866

Shenfield Road
Brentwood
CM15 8EH

01277 695695

Warren Road
Brighton
BN2 6DX

01273 624488

3 Clifton Hill
Clifton
Bristol
BS8 1BN

0117 906 4870

4 Trumpington Road
Cambridge
CB2 8AF

01223 303336

Cardiff Bay Hospital
Dunleavey Drive
Cardiff
CF11 0SN

02920 836700

Hatherley Lane
Cheltenham
GL51 6SY

01242 246552

Wrexham Road
Chester
CH4 7QP

01244 680 444

78 Broyle Road
Chichester
PO19 6WB

01243 530600

Rykneld Road
Derby
DE23 4SN

01332 540100

Wonford Road
Exeter
EX2 4UG

01392 262110

25 Beaconsfield Road
Glasgow
G12 0PJ

01413349441

Stirling Road
Guildford
GU2 7RF

01483 555805

Burrell Road
Haywards Heath
RH16 1UD

01444 456999

Venns Lane
Hereford
HR1 1DF

01432 355 131

Foxhall Road
Ipswich
IP4 5SW

01473 279100

2 Leighton Street
Leeds
LS1 3EB

01133 882 067

Scraptoft Lane
Leicester
LE5 1HY

0116 2769 401

Clayton Road
Newcastle-upon-Tyne
NE2 1JP

0191 281 6131

Clayton Road
Newcastle-under-Lyme
ST5 4DB

01782 625431

Beech Road
Headington
Oxford
OX3 7RP

01865 307777

Derriford Road
Plymouth
PL6 8BG

01752 775861

Longden Road
Shrewsbury
SY3 9DP

01743 282628

Staplegrove Elm
Taunton
TA2 6AN

01823 286991

Junction Road
Norton
Stockton on Tees
TS20 1PX

01642 367439

Kingswood Road
Tunbridge Wells
TN2 4UL

01892 531111

The Chase
Old Milverton Lane
Leamington Spa
CV32 6RW

01926 436351

Winchester Road
Chandlers Ford
Eastleigh
SO53 2DW

02380 266 377

Shores Road
Woking
GU21 4BY

01483 227800

Wood Road
Tettenhall
Wolverhampton
WV6 8LE

01902 754 177

Haxby Road
York
YO31 8TA

01904 715000

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