Long Term Effects of Discectomies

Discectomies are one of the most common surgical treatment options used to treat disc herniations. These procedures vary in their techniques and invasiveness, which causes differences in success rates, recovery time, risk factors, side effects, and more. The most common area of the spine for a discectomy is in the lower back, and these procedures are associated with a variety of risk factors and side effects in the short and long term.

What is a Discectomy?

Discectomies are performed in order to treat a disc herniation. Herniations occur when the outer fibrous layer of the intervertebral disc breaks down or tears, allowing a portion of the inner gel-like layer to leak out of the spinal column. Other common names for a disc herniation include a slipped disc, bulging disc, or prolapsed disc.

disc explaining how an annular tears affects backpain

In some cases, a herniation will not cause any significant symptoms. However, the protruding part of the spinal disc could put pressure on one of the many spinal nerves surrounding the spine. A pinched spinal nerve can result in pain, tingling, numbness, or muscle weakness in the back and down the extremities. This most commonly occurs in the lower back, and the symptoms are felt in the hip and down the leg.

In most cases, more conservative non-surgical methods are often used to try to alleviate back pain. Some of these can include medications, physical therapy, or strength training. However, if these fail, you and your physician may decide that surgery is the best course of action.

A discectomy involves cutting out a portion of the disc that has herniated. This procedure can be performed in any area of the spine. Ideally, only the protruding area of the disc is removed, keeping the majority of the disc structure intact. This preserves more functionality, strength, and stability in the spine and often leads to better recovery rates.

However, some herniations are severe enough that they warrant removal of a larger portion of the intervertebral disc. When this occurs, the surgeon may need to place donor or synthetic bone graft in the space of the disc to maintain the spine’s structure. Additionally, metal hardware may be used to fuse the vertebrae together to prevent movement in that joint.

There are two main types of discectomy procedures: open and microendoscopic. Open procedures involve making a larger incision on the backside of the spine. The muscle is then split and pulled to the sides, and part of the bone must be removed to access the spinal cord. Then, the spinal nerve is pushed out of the way and the damaged portion of the disc is removed.

difference between an open discectomy and an endoscopic discectomy

Microendoscopic procedures are less invasive and require a smaller skin incision. Then, tubes are inserted into the incision and through the muscles to access the spinal cord. A camera is inserted into the space as well to allow the surgeon to visualize the area. The procedure is then performed in the same way, but this method results in less disruption of the muscles and tissues and may lessen recovery time and complications.

Discectomy procedures can be an alternative to Spinal Fusions and may help to alleviate pain caused by a disc herniation. However, there are also a number of risk factors and side effects that you should be aware of.

Side Effects and Risks

Following a discectomy, recovery time will be necessary. The surgical site will be painful and will need to be managed by ice and medication. You will also be unable to lift, bend, or twist for two weeks or more. Restrictions will also be placed on driving, strenuous activity, and even some daily activities. Physical therapy is often recommended as well.

During the surgery itself, there is always the possibility of high amounts of blood loss, the forming of blood clots that can occlude blood vessels, infection, and others. Due to the location of the surgery, there is a possibility for nerve damage to occur as well. If any of the spinal nerves are damaged, it can result in pain, numbness, or paralysis.

With a discectomy, there is always the risk that further spinal issues will occur and other surgeries will be required. In fact, studies have shown that the percentage of individuals requiring further surgeries is as high as 25 percent. Another study found that those that do undergo two spinal operations have a 25.1 percent likelihood to undergo more procedures in the future. 

The Discseel® Procedure: An Alternative Treatment Method

Surgical procedures can be beneficial, but they also carry high costs and risk for reinjury. The Discseel® Procedure provides an alternative, non-invasive treatment option that utilizes the body’s own stem cells to address the root of the spinal pain.

Discectomy procedures do not address the root problem and simply remove the protruding disc. This leaves open the opportunity for re-herniation or other spinal issues. On the other hand, The Discseel® Procedure involves injecting tissue regenerating stem cells directly into the damaged site. The cells and a fibrin matrix can help to stop disc degeneration, repair any cracks in the spinal disc, and prevent future herniations from occurring.


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