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At a Glance

  • A microdiscectomy usually treats leg pain, numbness and weakness through removal of disc herniation material.
  • Due to advances in technology, a microdiscectomy requires only a small incision and sometimes does not necessitate overnight hospitalization.
  • Recovery is usually quick, allowing normal activities within weeks.
  • The success rate with this surgery is in the 90- to 95-percent range.


One of the most effective and least invasive spine surgeries, a microdiscectomy is a minimally invasive procedure to remove any disc herniation material impinging on a nerve root within the spinal column, causing severe pain and possible nerve damage.

The goal is to safely eliminate portions of discs that are extruded (tissue partially squeezed out of the disc) or sequestered (the disc is pushed completely out of its space). Both conditions can result in significant pressure on the spinal cord or spinal nerves, resulting in extreme leg pain numbness and/or significant weakness (also known as foot drop).

A surgeon performs a microdiscectomy through a very small incision using an operating microscope or an endoscope (a tubular device with a light attachment for looking inside the body).

Traditionally, discectomies required larger incisions, general anesthesia and an overnight hospital stay. Recovery usually took weeks, barring patients from going back to work and resuming physical activities for up to two months or more in some cases.

However, recent advances in microscopic and endoscopic procedures allow microdiscectomies through an incision about one inch long and under local or spinal anesthesia. The surgeon removes only a tiny portion of the displaced disc.

Often a microdiscectomy requires less than an hour. Instead of using stitches to close the incision, the surgeon usually uses paper strips.

In successful microdiscectomies, leg pain disappears either immediately or within a few days. There is often some discomfort around the incision in the back, but this, too, is normally diminished within a week to ten days. A mild pain reliever usually eases soreness in the meantime.

Numbness in the leg is less predictable after surgery: in most cases it lessens or disappears shortly, while in other instances it lingers. If there is nerve damage caused by a herniated disc, such as a foot drop, it can take up to year or longer to resolve.

Daily activities such as driving and walking can be resumed after returning home. Only strenuous activities such as heavy lifting are discouraged for a while, usually a month or two. Recreational or competitive sports can be started within four to six weeks, including golf.

As in any surgery, a microdiscectomy carries certain risks. However, the procedure is now considered one of the most routine and safest spine operations available today.

Microdiscectomy treats Herniated Intervertebral Disc.


Frequently asked Questions

What’s the difference between a microdiscectomy and a laminotomy?
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