What is Disc Decompression?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 January 2019
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Disc decompression is the process of relieving excess pressure that has led to the development of back pain as the result of damage sustained by one or more discs. There are three common methods of disc decompression in use today, with each one usually focusing on the removal of material around or within the disc or treating the nerve roots attached to a damaged disc. The actual process of disc decompression can be used to alleviate chronic pain and allow the patient to enjoy a much higher quality of life.

One option with disc decompression is known as the microdiscectomy. With this procedure, small section of the bone that is over the nerve or under the damaged disc is removed, effectively relieving pressure that is currently placed on the disc. This type of procedure can be very effective when a herniated disc is present, particularly when the damaged disc is in the lower or lumbar spine.

Microdiscectomy can make a substantial difference in the amount of leg pain that is often associated with a spinal injury that causes damage or swelling to one or more discs. The relief to the lower back itself is usually less immediate or noticeable, although this form of disc decompression does help to expedite the healing process to the nerve root and the inflamed disc. Over time, the pain in the lower back begins to subside and the patient is able to function without the aid of medication.


Laminectomy is another disc decompression procedure that has proven helpful for some people suffering from a spinal injury or chronic low back pain. This type of surgery is often employed when the main source of the discomfort is due to damaged nerves that are causing inflammation or bulging in the disc. The procedure involves the removal of a small amount of bone above the nerve or some of the material from the underlying disc, much like microdiscectomy. However, laminectomy is usually focused on cases where spinal stenosis is present.

Laser discectomy is a relatively new type of disc decompression. With this procedure, laser light is used to identify and correct problems associated with the discs. Less invasive than other options, this procedure makes use of a miniature endoscope that is equipped with a fine laser fiber. The device is positioned so it enters the affected disc while still remaining safely outside the spinal canal. Using the laser, excess tissue can be removed from the herniated or bulging disc and allow the disc to decompress back to a normal size. Because a laser discectomy is minimally invasive, the recovery time for the patient is reduced substantially.

Disc decompression typically helps to alleviate shooting and chronic pain in the legs almost immediately. However, the pain in the back takes longer to subside. As the damaged nerves and discs begin to heal, the pain will become more manageable and eventually cease. In the interim, a physician can monitor the progress and prescribe pain medication on an as needed basis.



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