Disc Decompression

Anatomy of the Spine

The spinal cord passes through the vertebral column, which forms a bony protective cover. Between the vertebral bones are soft discs that cushion the spine against stresses and allow the spine to be flexible.

What is Disc Decompression?

Acute or chronic injury can cause a spinal disc to herniate or rupture. The damaged disc may compress against the spinal cord or the nerves that branch out through them, leading to pain, loss of sensation and/or motor function in the part of the body supplied by the nerve. Disc decompression is a surgical procedure to release pressure on the compressed nerve by removing a part of the damaged disc (discectomy).

Indications of Disc Decompression Surgery

Disc decompression surgery is considered when conservative treatments fail to relieve symptoms such as pain, numbness and weakness; your doctor has identified the degenerated disc as the source of your pain; and you are healthy enough to undergo the procedure.

Disc Decompression Surgery Procedure

Disc decompression may be performed through a minimally invasive procedure under general anaesthesia.

  • You will lie face-down on the operating table.
  • Your surgeon makes a small incision towards one side of the affected region of your spine. This is done with the guidance of imaging techniques.
  • A device called a tubular retractor is then inserted to hold back the surrounding muscles and form a narrow tunnel through which the surgery can be performed.
  • Small surgical instruments are inserted through the retractor to remove a portion of the lamina (bony arch of the vertebra that covers the spinal cord). This allows a clear view of the damaged disc through a surgical microscope.
  • The nerve is retracted and a part of the affected disc is removed (discectomy) to decompress the nerve. The entire disc may sometimes be removed and replaced with bone graft.
  • Once the surgery is complete, the instruments and retractor are removed, and the incision is closed with sutures or staples.

What Happens Following Disc Decompression Surgery?

Depending on the extent of the surgery, you will be able to go home one or two days after the surgery. From the day of surgery, you are encouraged to move around and will be gradually taught certain exercises to improve strength and mobility. You will be able to resume work four to six weeks after the procedure.

Risks and Complications Associated with Disc Decompression Surgery

As with all surgical procedures, disc decompression surgery may be associated with certain complications such as

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Blood clots
  • Nerve damage
  • Recurring symptoms

What are the Benefits of Minimally Invasive Disc Decompression?

When compared to open spine surgery, minimally invasive disc decompression involves

  • Fewer complications
  • Faster recovery
  • Reduced post-operative pain
  • Minimal damage to surrounding muscle and soft tissues
  • Less bleeding