Open Accessibility Menu


The Center for Spine in Orange County

The Center for Spine at Hoag Orthopedic Institute is comprised of spine surgeons who specialize in using the most advanced techniques and technology to treat a wide range of conditions affecting the back, neck, and spine. By personalizing care, our patients have access to a care team who can help them prepare for their surgeries and recoveries, including those involving a discectomy.

Discectomy is a type of spine surgery that involves the removal of all or part of a spinal disc that compresses on a nerve root or spinal cord and therefore causes pain and reduced mobility. It can be performed on the lower back (lumbar). It is most commonly used to treat slipped or herniated discs.

Determining if You're a Candidate for Discectomy

In deciding whether to recommend surgery, your orthopedic surgeon will look for a history of persistent leg pain, weakness, and limitation of daily activities that has not gotten better with at least 4 weeks of nonsurgical treatment. Your surgeon will order diagnostic testing to determine if your herniated disc will respond to surgery.

These diagnostic tests may include the following:

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • Computed Tomography (CT)
  • Myelogram

How is Discectomy Performed?

As with most surgeries, a discectomy may be recommended when more serious damage or conditions affect the spine, or when non-surgical care fails to restore motion and provide pain relief. It can be performed as traditional open surgery or as a minimally invasive procedure that uses small incisions and advanced tools. Minimally invasive spine surgery allows for less disruption of soft tissue, which can result in shorter hospital stays and faster recoveries, and can be performed on an outpatient basis.

A discectomy is normally performed under general anesthesia. The procedure takes about an hour, depending on several factors. You will most likely be admitted as an outpatient and you may have a one-night stay, although in some cases, it can be done in an outpatient surgery center.

Discectomy may be performed using the following approaches:

  • Microdiscectomy is a minimally invasive technique performed though an incision that allows a surgeon to gain access to the damaged spinal disc using slim surgical instruments. These instruments are guided by a tiny scope connected to a monitor. A surgeon will then use the monitor to pinpoint the removal of damaged portions of the spinal disc, disc fragments, and / or bone spurs that may be impinging the spinal column or nearby nerve roots. A microdiscectomy (also called a microdecompression) is usually more effective for relieving leg pain (also known as radiculopathy or sciatica) than lower back pain.
  • Laminotomy is a traditional method of removing damaged portions of a spinal disc and it involves partial removal of the lamina bone, which forms the ring covering the spinal canal. This procedure may be done in conjunction with a discectomy to provide more room for surgeons to remove damaged portions of discs. The procedure may also involve a small opening in the ligament between the lamina and the spinal cord (ligamentum flavum) to remove additional disc fragments.
  • Laminectomy is a form of spinal decompression surgery involving the lamina, a thin bony layer that covers and protects the spinal canal and spinal cord. A laminectomy differs from a Laminotomy in that it involves removing the entire lamina. Depending on the extent of injury to the disc, complete removal of the lamina is required and this procedure is often done in conjunction with a discectomy given this procedure provides more room for the surgeon to remove damaged portions of the disc.

What to Expect from the Procedure

A discectomy is normally performed under general anesthesia. The procedure takes about an hour, depending on several factors. You will most likely be admitted as an inpatient for a one night stay, although in some cases, it can be done in an outpatient surgery center. Many people awaken from surgery with complete resolution of their leg pain, however, it is not unusual for the pain to slowly dissipate. Most people find relief of much, if not all, of their symptoms from a discectomy.

What to Expect After a Discectomy

Recovery will depend on the treatment, underlying condition, and patient, but most patients can expect a full recovery within 8 weeks. Following surgery, our specialists work closely with patients to help them navigate a personalized plan that may consist of pain management and outpatient physical therapy. Post-surgery, it is important to avoid lifting heavy objects, and you should try not to bend or twist the back excessively until your surgeon clears you for strenuous activity.

In every procedure we perform, we strive to provide comprehensive care pre- and post-surgery. Our goal is always centered on helping patients alleviate pain, increase mobility, and live healthy and more active lives.

Find a Spine Surgeon Today

Whether a discectomy is right for you will depend on the underlying condition, pain, and whether nonsurgical care has failed to provide relief. This is why our spine surgeons work closely with our patients during initial evaluations and diagnostic testing. If you wish to speak with a spine doctor from the Center for Spine at Hoag Orthopedic Institute regarding possible treatment options, we encourage you to visit our online physician directory to find a spine surgeon.

Patient Stories
Related Blog/Articles
Related Podcasts & Videos