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Learning About Lumbar Microdiscectomy

A healthy disc and a herniated disc

What is a lumbar microdiscectomy?

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

Surgery may help the pain and numbness. It may also improve movement. And it will help prevent more damage.

After surgery, your back may feel stiff and sore for several weeks.

How is a lumbar microdiscectomy done?

A doctor or nurse will give you medicine to make you sleep. You will not feel pain during the surgery.

The doctor will make a 2.5 to 5 centimetre cut (incision) in the skin over the spine. He or she will put a special microscope (scope) and surgical tools through the incision.

The doctor may first remove a small amount of bone and other tissue from the spine. This helps him or her see the area around the disc. Then the doctor removes the bulging part of the disc. Next, he or she closes the incision with stitches.

After surgery, you will have a small scar on your back. It will fade with time.

What can you expect after a lumbar microdiscectomy?

You will probably be able to go home the same day as your surgery.

After surgery, you may have less leg pain and numbness. And you may be able to move your leg better. Some people feel better very soon after surgery. But if you had leg pain or numbness for a long time before surgery, it may take longer to feel better.

Your back will probably feel stiff and sore. It may be uncomfortable to sit or stand in one position for very long. This usually gets better after several weeks. But your back could be a little stiff for up to 6 months.

Many people are able to go back to work and daily activities soon. If you work in an office, you may go back to work in 2 to 4 weeks. If your job requires physical labour (such as lifting or twisting) you may be able to go back to work in 4 to 8 weeks.

Your doctor may recommend that you work with a physiotherapist to make the muscles around your spine stronger and more flexible. You will need to learn how to lift, twist, and bend in ways that keep your back safe.

Walking and doing back exercises at home can help you get better faster.

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.

Where can you learn more?

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