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Most often patients with a herniated disc will not require surgery. Most people who get a herniated disc from a spinal or back injury tend to recover within four to six weeks, with the assistance of medication and physical therapy. However, about ten percent of the patients with a herniated disc must seek surgical treatment.
There are certain conditions which must be present before your physician will consider surgery as a treatment for your herniated disc. The first and most obvious is that your condition has not improved within two months using the prescribed medications and physical therapy treatments. If your condition has remained unchanged or worsened for more than two months, your doctor will likely begin discussing surgical options with you.
Another condition that must be met is that your condition involves weakness and a limited movement or mobility. These conditions must translate into an inability to maintain a standard quality of life. Because any surgery related to the spine or spinal column is extremely dangerous, these conditions are of vital consideration before your doctor will begin looking at surgery as an option for treatment of a herniated disc.
Other testing must be done and conditions met before your surgery is scheduled. A physical examination will need to be completed by an orthopedic surgeon. This examination must reveal weakness, loss of mobility, extreme sensitivity, and/or a positive straight leg test.
Other testing will also likely be required. This testing includes an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and computed tomography. This testing will enable the orthopedic surgeon to determine if the herniated disc is operable, making you a candidate for surgery.
Once surgery has been determined to be a viable option for treatment of the herniated disc, the type of surgery required must also be determined. There are three basic types of surgery commonly done for herniated disc patients. These surgery types are discectomy, laminatomy or laminectomy, and percutaneous discectomy.
A discectomy is a surgical procedure in which the surgeon removes the herniated disc material to relieve pressure and increase mobility of the spine. This procedure is also used for bulging or ruptured discs. This is the surgical type most often used to correct the problems associated with a herniated disc.
A laminatomy or laminectomy is a surgical procedure in which the surgeon removes a thin part of the vertebra that is causing the pressure leading to loss of mobility and severe pain. Some procedures may also require the removal of a portion of the thick tissue narrowing the spinal canal. This surgery may be done alone or with a discectomy.
Finally, a percutaneous discectomy is an experimental surgical procedure in which a small, special tool is inserted into a very small incision in the back. The surgeon uses the tool to remove the swollen tissue of the herniated disc. While this surgery is less invasive, it is also less effective.
In the end, surgery for a herniated disc is considered only as a last resort. If the prescribed treatment for your condition does not assist you, you may need to discuss surgical options with your doctor.