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Microdiscectomy in the Low Back: Before Your Surgery

A healthy disc and a herniated disc

Microdiscectomy: What is it?

Microdiscectomy is surgery to remove part or all of a bulging or damaged (herniated) disc in the spine. A herniated disc in the low back (from the first lumbar vertebra to the sacrum) is called a lumbar herniated disc. It if irritates or presses on the spinal nerves, it can cause pain and numbness in the buttock and leg.

Surgery is done to stop the pressure on the nerves. This may help with pain and numbness. And it may help you move better. It will also help prevent further damage. Some people notice that their symptoms improve very soon. But your back may feel stiff and sore for a few weeks.

Your doctor makes a 3- to 5-centimetre cut in the skin over the spine. This cut is called an incision. He or she uses a microscope (scope) to see the area and then uses surgical tools through the incision to do the surgery. Your doctor removes a small amount of bone and other tissues around the bulging disc. This helps him or her to better see the disc material. Then your doctor removes the bulging part of the disc. He or she finishes the surgery by closing the incision with stitches. You will have a small scar on your back. It will fade with time.

You will be asleep for the surgery. You may go home the same day you have surgery, or you may need to stay in the hospital or surgery centre overnight. You will probably be able to go back to work or your normal routine within 8 weeks after surgery. Your doctor may also suggest physiotherapy and home exercises.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

What happens before surgery?

Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • Tell your doctors ALL the medicines and natural health products you take. Some of these can increase the risk of bleeding or interact with anesthesia.
  • Your doctor will tell you which medicines to take or stop before your surgery. You may need to stop taking certain medicines a week or more before surgery. So talk to your doctor as soon as you can.
  • If you take aspirin or some other blood thinner, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if and when to start taking this medicine again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • If you have an advance care plan, let your doctor know. Bring a copy to the hospital. If you don't have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets your doctor and loved ones know your health care wishes. Doctors advise that everyone prepare these papers before any type of surgery or procedure.

What happens on the day of surgery?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your surgery may be cancelled.
  • If your doctor has told you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, take them with only a sip of water.
  • Take a bath or shower before you come in for your surgery. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
  • Do not shave the surgical site yourself.
  • Take off all jewellery and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.

At the hospital or surgery centre

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • The area for surgery is often marked to make sure there are no errors.
  • You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. You will be asleep during the surgery.
  • The surgery will take about 1 to 2 hours.

Going home

  • Be sure you have someone to drive you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine make it unsafe for you to drive.
  • You will be given more specific instructions about recovering from your surgery. They will cover things like diet, wound care, follow-up care, driving, and getting back to your normal routine.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You don't understand how to prepare for your surgery.
  • You become ill before the surgery (such as fever, flu, or a cold).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about having the surgery.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.