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Cervical, Dorsal or Lumbar Discectomy

The intervertebral or spinal disc is a flexible structure that acts as a shock absorber for the vertebrae, allowing slight movement and acting as a ligament to hold the vertebrae together. 

When the discs become damaged for some reason (degeneration, trauma or others), part of the disc bulges out towards the spinal canal, compressing the spinal cord or nerves and causing pain (sciatica), paralysis or loss of sensitivity. 

Cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back) discectomy consists of removing the damaged disc material that is compressing the nerves.

Benefits of the Operation

Decompression of nerve roots provides immediate pain relief, although other symptoms such as weakness and numbness may take some time to remit or, less commonly, may remain as sequelae (conditions resulting from an earlier disease or illness), depending on the extent of the existing damage. 

The sole purpose of discectomy of the lumbar and cervical spine is to decompress a nerve structure. It does not restore the integrity of the spinal column, which is why it is important to compensate for the loss of a disc by strengthening the muscles after surgery.

Medical-technical description

In simple discectomy, the surgeon must reach the vertebral canal to locate the problem (the hernia) and the damaged structure (bone marrow or nerve).

This surgery can be performed in a number of ways, depending on the type of hernia, the location of the problem, patients age and conditions:

  • MICRODISCECTOMY (Microdecompression) SPINE SURGERY: open approach through a small (2-4 cm) incision. It is always effective, but can trigger fibrosis or instability.
  • FORAMINOTOMY: Performed through a 1 cm percutaneous incision; it is less aggressive but is not always effective because the movements of the instruments used are restricted.
  • COSTOTRANSVERSECTOMY: Specific procedure for the dorsal canal. More aggressive and associated with long-term instability.
  • RETROPLEURAL APPROACH: Specific approach for the thoracic region, minimally invasive and associated with instrumented stabilisation.

Discectomy of the lower back (lumbar spine) may be part of a bigger operation that may also include a laminectomy, foraminotomy or a spinal fusion. 

Neck discectomy (cervical spine) is more often performed with a laminectomy, foraminotomy or vertebral fusion.

About the operation

The disc is removed in the operating theatre. The procedure usually takes between 15 minutes and two hours, depending on the type of approach used and the location, although the patient is in the operating theatre and recovery room for between two and five hours.

Patient must stay in hospital for between one and 3 days.

Before the operation

  • The patient goes to the doctor's office for a prior consultation, where decisions are taken and the doctor explains the surgery in detail and gives the patient an informed consent.
  • The patient has a complete preoperative study with laboratory tests, ECG and x-rays.
  • Do not drink alcohol or smoke for 48 hours before the procedure.
  • If you are to have your surgery in the morning, you must not eat or drink anything that morning. If the surgery is to take place in the afternoon, have an early breakfast then do not eat or drink anything after 9 am.
  • You must remove all metal objects during the operation (rings, bracelets, earrings, body piercings, etc.).

Post-operative care

  • You will need help to change position in bed and should avoid lying face up all the time.
  • Any drains will be removed on day after surgery before you can get up.
  • The use of a corset after this surgery is not required. You can wear an ordinary corset if this makes you more comfortable for a few days.
  • You can and must walk on the days after your surgery, being careful not to tire your back.  You will be able to walk longer distances progressively.
  • Sit on straight backed chairs for the first two weeks.
  • After you have been released, you should contact us if you notice any chest pain or are short of breath, feel weakness in any of your limbs,  have a fever or are shivering.
  • After you have been released you must avoid a series of movements and positions for one month:
    • Lifting weights
    • Difficult positions for the spine
    • Housework
    • Driving

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