Years ago, patients who needed surgery for a herniated disk in their back faced a long recovery period. Now, there are several minimally invasive options for spinal surgery that result in less pain and a faster recovery.
The bones that form the spine are cushioned by round, flat disks. When those disks become damaged, they can bulge or herniate and cause significant pain. For herniated disks in the lumbar (lower) spine, you may experience pain in your lower back and tingling or numbness in your legs.
One option for surgery is a diskectomy, or removal of the damaged disk through a scope. This procedure takes pressure off the nerve root and relieves pain. “In the 1980s and 1990s, we were performing this surgery with incisions that were six to eight inches long,” says Brandon J. Scott, DO, neurosurgeon at Saint Francis Medical Center. “Now, we can do the procedure endoscopically, through an incision that is less than a quarter of an inch long.”
Here is how it works: The surgeon makes a tiny incision in the back through which he inserts the scope (a thin, flexible tube). He threads the scope to the area where the herniation is and uses instruments to remove the disk through the scope.
Another minimally invasive option involves using a laser instead of a scope. In this procedure, the surgeon still uses the scope to access the herniated disk, but instead of using surgical instruments, he uses a laser to burn away the damaged disk.
“With traditional open surgery, patients used to be out of work between six weeks and three months,” says Scott. “But under the endoscopic or laser procedure, they can go back to work in about three weeks. Additionally, they can return home the day of the surgery with very few restrictions.”
“As time has gone on, researchers have found more and more ways to refine the diskectomy procedure,” continues Scott. “The minimally invasive option, called a microendoscopic diskectomy, has proven to work well for many of our patients.”