Herniated (or prolapsed) lumbar discs are a common cause of backache and sciatica. The herniation is a result of a protrusion of the cushioning disc (nucleus pulposus) through a tear in the surrounding outer edge of the disc structure. The outer disc may rupture completely resulting in an extruded disc or may remain intact but stretched resulting in a contained disc prolapse. This may then compress one or more nerve roots, resulting in pain along the sciatic nerve. A discectomy works by removing part of a prolapsed disc that is compressing nerves.
Surgery is considered where there is nerve compression or persistent symptoms that are intractable to conservative treatment. If you have failed at least six months of conservative treatment without adequate results, you may be a candidate for a discectomy. Your doctor can help you determine if you are a candidate.
Discectomy usually provides faster pain relief than non surgical conservative treatment, although it is unclear whether surgery makes a difference in what treatment may be needed later on. When comparing open discectomy with micro discectomy, people have reported being equally satisfied with both techniques. However, micro discectomy resulted in a much shorter recovery period. A 2001 study reports that surgery results in the greatest improvement for people with moderate or severe sciatica caused by lower (lumbar) back disc herniation.
People with prolonged symptoms that are severe enough to interfere with normal activities and work and require strong pain medications may gain significant relief from discectomy surgery.