Lumbar microdiscectomy (back)

What is it?

A lumbar microdiscectomy is a common back operation performed to relieve pressure on a nerve caused by a disc prolapse. 

Nerve compression can cause leg pain (sciatica), numbness and/or weakness. 

You may need lumbar disc surgery if your symptoms have not resolved with time and pain relief. Persistent symptoms may interfere with your work, sport or other activities.

Diagnosis and treatment options

If you are demonstrating symptoms of a trapped nerve in your back, then it is likely that you will be recommended to undergo an MRI scan of your lumbar spine. 

If your MRI demonstrates a lumbar disc prolapse (slipped disc) with nerve compression then you have three main options:

  • Carry on with pain relief and physiotherapy and wait to see if the symptoms settle down naturally
  • Consider a lumbar epidural injection of steroid (a local anaesthetic day case procedure)
  • Consider a lumbar microdiscectomy (an operation under general anaesthesia)

Which treatment is right for you will depend on the severity and duration of your symptoms, how quickly you want to return to full physical activity and also your understanding of the risks of any procedure.

You will have plenty of opportunity to ask questions about the technique of surgery, any potential complications as well as your expected rate of recovery following surgery.

Outcome and complications

After a lumbar microdiscectomy, patient satisfaction rates are 85-90% and we expect 90% of patients to experience good or excellent relief from leg pain. (Spine Tango data)

As with all surgery there is always some risk of complication. These will be discussed prior to going ahead with any procedure. For this type of surgery, risks include:

  • Wound infection - 2-3%
  • Bleeding - 1%
  • Spinal fluid leak - 5%
  • Further disc prolapse - 5%
  • Leg pain or back pain worsens - less than 5%
  • Rare nerve injury causing numbness, weakness or paralysis in the legs or problems with bladder, bowel or sexual function - less than 1 in 1000
  • Rare injury to a major blood vessel – 1 in 4000
  • Complications associated with general anaesthesia (heart problems, chest complications, blood clots, infection) - these risks may increase with certain medical conditions

Data from Spine Tango.

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