What is lumbar microdiscectomy?
Lumbar microdiscectomy is a procedure that’s performed to remove the pressure from a disc prolapse onto the sciatic nerve.
The nerve pain you may feel is a result of sciatica, which is pain down your leg caused by pressure on a nerve where it leaves your spine. This can happen if a disc in your spine becomes worn and develops a bulge (a 'slipped disc') (see figure 1).
If you have sciatica, you may experience leg pain, numbness, pins and needles and weakness in your legs. The aim of a lumbar microdiscectomy is to reduce or eliminate these symptoms.
What are the benefits of surgery?
Successful surgery should take away any leg pain you feel and you should no longer experience weakness, numbness and pin and needles.
You should also recover more quickly from your sciatica and you may be less likely to get sciatica again.
What does surgery for a slipped disc involve?
If you decide to have surgery, the operation itself will be carried out under anaesthetic. There are a variety of possible anaesthetic techniques that can be used.
During the surgery, your surgeon will make a cut in the centre of your lower back. They will part the muscles and remove a small amount of ligament and sometimes bone to get to the disc. Then, your surgeon will remove the piece of disc that is pressing on the nerve.
The operation usually takes between 45 minutes to an hour.
Are there any alternatives to surgery?
Most people will get better by themselves and surgery may not be needed. Alternatives to surgery include managing your symptoms with painkillers, taking adequate rest and having physiotherapy.
If you’re in severe pain, you can also have a steroid injection in your spine which can help to relieve your symptoms. However, if you’re living in persistent pain and your quality of life is affected, surgery is an option.
What complications can happen?
General complications of any operation include:
- Infection in the surgical wound
- Unsightly scarring
- Blood clots
- Difficulty passing urine
- Blood clots
Specific complications of a lumbar microdiscectomy include:
- Continued pain or numbness down your leg
- Numbness between your legs, loss of normal bowel and bladder control and, in men, problems with having an erection
- Infection of the intervertebral disc
- Tear of the thin membrane that covers the nerves in your spine
How long does it take to recover?
Following surgery, you should be able to go home the following day. In a week or two you should feel almost back to normal, and after six to eight weeks you should be able to return to work.
Physiotherapy will be important in helping you get back to your day-to-day life as quickly as possible. Sessions can continue for up to three months and you’ll be taught specific exercises to help you build up your strength, as well as your confidence. It’s always a good idea to speak to a member of your healthcare team before doing any exercise.
It’s also important to avoid any heavy lifting after surgery, even if it’s part of your job.
Following a lumbar microdisectomy, most people will make a good recovery and are able to return to their normal daily life.