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What is a Diskectomy?

By Nat Robinson
Updated May 17, 2024
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A diskectomy is a surgical procedure to remove all or portions of a herniated disk in the spine. The surgery is usually done to remove nerve root pressure caused by the herniated disk. Nerve roots branch out of the spinal cord and join together to form spinal nerves. Often, weakness, pain and numbness in the neck, back and legs can occur due to pressure being placed on nerve roots. Individuals with severe symptoms may have this surgery to remove the herniated disk, which will generally alleviate particularly problematic symptoms.

The spine consists of bones cushioned by small disks. Sometimes, these disks can bulge or slip out of place. When this happens, the condition is known as a herniated disk. The misplaced disk can place a significant amount of pressure on the surrounding spinal nerves. Most commonly, the lower back and neck are the most general sites of a herniated disk, although, it can happen at any location in the spine.

Symptoms of a herniated disk can include tingling, pain and numbness in the area where the damaged disk is located. Generally, this will be the lower back or neck. Some people may experience weakness that can extend into the arms and legs. In severe cases, there can be a loss of bladder and bowel control. Typically, when symptoms become so severe that the daily quality of life is affected, a diskectomy will be performed to remove all or parts of the problematic disk.

During a diskectomy, the patient will typically be under general anesthesia, which means he or she will be unconscious during the medical procedure. Usually, the surgeon will make an incision and move covering tissues and muscles to expose the herniated disk. In many cases, only the offending portions of the disk will be removed, along with any loose fragments. These parts are typically the ones which place pressure on the spinal nerves and make the patient symptomatic.

Generally, this spinal surgery may not result in immediate relief of herniated disk symptoms. A few weeks may be needed to detect a noticeable change. In the weeks following a diskectomy, most individuals will need to limit physical activity. This will generally include ceasing to sit or stand for long periods of time to minimize pressure to the neck and back. Some type of rehabilitation may also be advised before returning to normal activities.

Not everyone with a herniated disk will need a diskectomy. Many people with a herniated disk can be successfully treated by conservative measures. Abstaining from strenuous activity can sometimes be helpful for this condition. Some people may use pain medications and heat or ice packs to soothe symptoms as well. If these less invasive treatments fail to improve the condition, surgery may be the next best option.

An individual with a herniated disk should consult with a doctor specializing in orthopedics. This is the study of the entire musculoskeletal system. An orthopedic specialist or surgeon will be able to make an accurate diagnosis of the condition by using specialized diagnostic tests. The results of the test, along with the severity of the patient's symptoms can help the doctor decide the best method of treatment, which is generally done on an individual basis.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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