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What is a discectomy?

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A discectomy is a surgical procedure that removes lumbar herniated disc material in the lower back, says WebMD. This material generally presses on the spinal cord or a nerve root. Doctors usually perform a microdiscectomy, which uses a microscope and camera to view disc material and nerve endings.

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The microscope allows doctors to use smaller incisions and reduce damage to surrounding nerves and tissue, notes WebMD. Surgeons may remove the small piece of bone that covers the disc, known as the lamina, to better see the disc during the operation. Doctors perform a discectomy to decrease pain and allow patients to regain normal ranges of movement in the back.

Doctors may recommend this surgery for patients who have very bad leg pains, numbness or weakness that keeps people from performing daily activities, says WebMD. This procedure can also alleviate leg symptoms if nonsurgical treatments do not work after four weeks. Surgeons may operate if a physical exam shows a person has loss of motion, weakness or abnormal feeling that is likely to improve after the procedure.

Symptoms alleviated by a discectomy include neck or back pain that radiates into the arms or legs, according to Mayo Clinic. This procedure is less helpful for back pain or neck pain that remains in those areas. Treatments of nonradiating neck and back pain include physical therapy and pain medications.

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