What is a Discectomy?
By Sarah Katsaras MPT, OCS
What is a Discectomy?
It is the surgical removal of a damaged portion of the intervertebral disc in the spine. This is usually done in order to reduce back or limb pain that is being caused by the pressure that the disc is putting on a nerve. Understanding this surgical procedure is helpful if your doctor has suggested that you have a discectomy.
Disc Anatomy in the Spine
In order to understand this procedure, you must first understand what the disc does and where it is in the spine. The intervertebral disc is found sitting between two vertebral bodies in the spine and it does two things for you: it creates space to allow the nerves to travel out to the limbs and it gives some shock absorption to your spine.
The disc attaches to the vertebrae above and below and has a hard outside and soft inside, like a jelly donut. If there is a tear to the disc, some of the softer, inside material can squeeze out and sit on the nerve that is nearby. This can cause pain, tingling/numbness and weakness in that nerve.
Why would you have a Discectomy?
A damaged disc in your spine can result in a piece of the disc sitting on your nerve. This will cause pain in the spine and in the path of that specific nerve. This could be felt in either the arm or leg, depending on the level of the disc in your spine. If it is in your neck then this would affect your arms. If it is in your low back, then this would affect your legs. You can also have numbness, tinging, and weakness. The discectomy is done to remove the part of the disc that is putting pressure on your nerve. Ideally, the symptoms would be gone after the offending disc portion is removed and you recover from the procedure.
Are there other Options besides a Discectomy?
If your doctor has suggested that you have a discectomy, typically you have been given other less invasive options such as:
Each of these options may enable you to reduce your pain and return to function. It really depends on the extent of the damage and this will be discussed by your doctor.
Should you do Physical Therapy?
It is always helpful to try physical therapy when there is a spine injury. It can be done to try and avoid the discectomy or it can be done after the discectomy to try and avoid further surgery. The discectomy will remove the pressure of the disc on the nerve but it will not change strength, flexibility, posture and knowledge of home care for spine issues. The physical therapy will do all of this and help avoid further injury.
Written By: Sarah Katsaras MPT, OCS
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