If you have back pain or sciatica, you understand how your symptoms can prevent you from working or enjoying your normal lifestyle. Your pain can limit your ability to sit, stand or walk comfortably.
There are many different causes of back and spinal pain, including:
- Vertebral compression fracture
- Spinal stenosis
- Spondylolisthesis, or slippage of one vertebrae on another
- Disc degeneration
- Muscle strains
- Herniated or bulging discs
To determine the cause of your pain, you need to see a doctor who can order tests like an X-Ray, MRI or CT scan. These diagnostic studies can show your spinal anatomy and can help your doctor determine the problem causing your pain.
Herniated discs are a common cause of low back and neck pain. How does a herniated disc cause pain, and what can your doctor do to treat your condition?
What is a Herniated Disc?
Your back is comprised of several bones that are stacked up on one another. Between each bone is a small intervertebral disc that acts as a shock absorber. There are two parts to each disc.
The outer part, called the annulus fibrosis, is comprised of cartilage rings that attach to each end of your vertebra. Inside the annulus fibrosis is a jelly-like material called the nucleus pulposis. This jelly is a soft squishy material that helps to absorb forces through your spine.
General wear and tear over time can cause your spinal discs to move out of place. When the jelly is pushed out of place, bulges in the disc and back pain may result. If the jelly pushes so far out of place that it exits the annulus fibrosis covering of the disc, a herniated disc results.
When you have a herniated disc, the disc material can irritate nerves that travel down your legs or arms. When this happens, you may feel symptoms like pain, numbness or tingling in your extremities. Severe compression of your spinal nerve from a herniated disc may result in weakness in muscles that are innervated by those nerves.
People with back pain from a herniated disc benefit from different treatments. Some people have success with physical therapy or chiropractic care. Many people find relief with spinal injections. People with persistent pain may require back surgery for herniated disc.
Back Surgery for Herniated Disc
If you have a herniated disc and persistent back pain and sciatica, you may benefit from surgery for your condition. There are different types of surgical procedures and approaches for your disc. The most common procedure is called a microdiscectomy.
During this procedure, your doctor will use surgical instruments to remove herniated disc material that is compressing spinal nerves.
When considering back surgery for herniated disc, you should know that there are two different types of surgical approaches. The standard approach is an open procedure where a large incision is made and instruments are used to cut away herniated disc material.
A newer and innovative approach to disc surgery is minimally invasive spine surgery. During this procedure, a small incision is made in your back, and specialized instruments are used to remove disc material that is compressing your nerves.
Many patients choose this approach because the small incision used offers rapid improvement with less pain and decreased risk of infection or blood loss.
Preparing for Back Surgery for Herniated Disc
When preparing for back surgery for herniated disc, it is important to follow your doctor’s instructions. Be sure you remain as active as possible in the weeks leading up to your surgery. Patients with better strength and range of motion before their surgery tend to fare better after surgery.
Your doctor may have you attend a pre-operative education class before you surgery. During this class, you may learn about your surgery and the healthcare professionals who will care for you during and after the procedure.
You may also take a tour of the surgical center and learn about the various pieces of diagnostic and surgical equipment used during surgery. On the day of surgery, your doctor may have you refrain from eating or drinking to ensure safety. Be sure to do exactly as your doctor says so you are prepared properly for your operation.
Recovery from Disc Surgery
On the day of surgery, you will be brought to the pre-op area and prepped for surgery by the nursing staff. Your doctor will meet with you to discuss the procedure and approach and vitals will be monitored. An IV will be started as well.
You will be brought to the operating room and general anesthesia will be administered. Your doctor will perform the surgery, and then you will be brought to the recovery room to begin your recovery. The nursing staff will encourage you to get out of bed to assess your mobility and pain level. Your doctor and members of your doctor’s team will check on you.
Most patients who have a minimally invasive microdiscectomy go home the same day of surgery. Patients who have an open microdiscectomy usually spend on night in the hospital. If your surgery was extensive or if there were complications, you may spend an extra day in the hospital.
Once you return home from the surgical center, you should slowly increase your activity level. You will be encouraged to walk for exercise and avoid any heavy lifting or repetitive bending.
You will likely follow up with your surgeon about one week after surgery. Your doctor will assess your back and look for signs of infection. He or she will also monitor your pain level and make recommendations for returning to work.
If your job requires sedentary or light activities, you may return to work within a couple weeks of surgery. If your work requires heavy lifting or high intensity activity, you may have to wait a few more weeks to return to work.
Most patients are fully recovered from back surgery for herniated disc 6 to 8 weeks after the procedure. Your recovery may be slightly quicker or delayed depending on your condition and on the surgical procedure and approach used for your herniated disc. Be sure to work closely with your doctor so you know what to expect from your specific recovery.
Find a Top Neurosurgeon
When considering surgery, you should find a top-rated surgeon who can perform the correct procedure for you. Your doctor should be a trusted resource for you and he or she should explain to you different procedures and approaches to surgery for a herniated disc. Your doctor should feel like a trusted ally, providing you with information so you can make the best decisions for your back.