Microdiscectomy is a minimally invasive surgery to remove parts of a herniated disc, thereby reducing pressure on the spinal nerve column. Also called a microdecompression, this procedure is better for relieving leg pain than back pain. Microdisectomy is an especially promising treatment for sciatica, eliminating up to 95% of sciatica discomfort caused by lumbar disc herniation. Sciatica often resolves without surgery. But for extremely persistent and painful cases that last for many months, your doctor might recommend microdiscectomy.

Microdiscectomies are performed under general anesthesia with the patient lying face down. The patient breathes using a ventilator during surgery. The surgeon cuts an inch-long incision directly over the problem disc. She or he uses retractors and a lighted operating microscope to get a clear look at the area, usually without having to cut adjacent tissues and muscles. The surgical team takes an x-ray to confirm they’re in the correct place. Depending on the patient, the surgeon may remove a small portion of bone in addition to cutting out the damaged herniated tissue so that nerve pressure lets up. The surgeon washes out the wound with sterile water and antibiotics before sewing the subcutaneous layers with strong sutures. Usually special surgical glue is sufficient to close the skin, leaving little scarring and requiring no bandages.

Since microdiscectomy is a minimally invasive procedure, the recovery time is shorter than for some other surgeries. Most people can leave the hospital the same day, or after spending one night. Patients usually meet with a physical or occupational therapist before being discharged to get the dos and don’ts of recovery. Lifting anything over five pounds will be prohibited for at least two weeks, nor should patients drive immediately or sit for extended periods. The physical therapist may teach the patient exercises to speed recovery. Full recovery usually takes about six weeks.

Microdiscectomy is considered safe, and complications are uncommon. But any surgery comes with some risks. These include recurrent disc herniation, bladder or bowel incontinence, nerve root damage, bleeding, infection and cerebrospinal fluid leakage.