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Discs are flexible pads of tissue between the spinal vertebra that act as shock absorbers. They have a tough outer layer and a spongy inner layer. These discs can become damaged, causing severe pain and disability to patients. Surgery may be required to relieve the pain of herniated discs and restore full mobility.

Herniated Discs

The discs of the human body start out very flexible with a good blood supply. Children rarely have spinal disc problems. As the body ages, the blood supply becomes less adequate and discs can become less elastic. Work activities and athletic activities can lead to stress on the discs of the spine. The fibrous outer covering of the disc can distort, putting pressure on the nerves of the spine. Sometimes, a genetic weakness causes the disc to herniate in this way.

Symptoms of Disc Problems

A disc problem can be suspected when there is pain on bending or sitting for a long period. The pain may be worse when you sneeze or cough. The pain may radiate down the leg or may cause tingling in the arms or legs as the nerves become pinched. Pain may be centered in the back or in the neck. Some cases of damaged discs do not cause any symptoms at all.

About Discectomy

The surgeon may decide to relieve the pressure caused by the fragment of disc that has become distorted out of its normal position through a procedure called discectomy. The surgery is done under general anesthesia. An opening is made in the back and tissue is moved aside to view the disc. The damaged portion of the disc is then removed, removing pressure on the nerve. The tissue is then replaced over the area. The patient generally stays in the hospital to recover for 2 to 4 days. He can return to work in about a week. Strenuous movement such as lifting, bending or twisting must be avoided for 3 months after the surgery.

Types of Discectomy

A laminectomy is sometimes performed in order to better view the damaged disc.
Microdiscectomy is done through a very small cut in the back with a special microscope. This method allows the surgeon to see the bones and nerves more clearly and causes less damage to surrounding areas. Percutaneous discectomy also uses a small incision in the back but may be less effective than open surgery. Lasers are being investigated for this type of surgery and may be available in the near future.


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