Lumbar Microdiscectomy: Before Your Surgery

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A healthy disc and a herniated disc

What is lumbar microdiscectomy?

Microdiscectomy is surgery to remove part or all of a bulging disc in the spine. This is also known as a herniated disc. A bulging disc may press on the spinal cord or spinal nerves. This can cause numbness, and leg and back pain.

Your doctor makes a 2.5 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. 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.

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.

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 overnight. You will probably be able to return to work or your normal routine within 8 weeks after surgery. In some cases, your doctor may suggest a rehabilitation program after surgery. This may include 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 or nurse call line 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?

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.
    If you take blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if you should stop taking these medicines before your surgery. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
    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 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.

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

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?

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