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Back Stories

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When do you know it’s time for herniated disc surgery?

Diagram of a herniated disc

One minute, you’re fine. The next, you’re grabbing your back because of tremendous discomfort. Plus weakness, numbness, or a pins-and-needles sensation radiating down into your buttocks and legs. Pain from a herniated disc can come on quickly and proper treatment can also help it go away in short order. But not everyone gets relief—immediate or otherwise. If that sounds like you, it may be time to think about surgery for a herniated disc.

“Often you can relieve a herniated disk with rest, pain relievers, and physical therapy,” said WebMD. “But if your symptoms don’t get better after a few months, surgery may be an option.”

First, let’s take a more in-depth look at these non-surgical options that back pain sufferers typically try before considering surgery for a herniated disc.

Conservative options for a herniated disc

Surgery for a herniated disc is usually a last resort. When you first seek treatment for back pain, your spine specialist will do an exam, study your medical history, and possibly also order some imaging tests to properly diagnose the issue. If it is a herniated disc, a number of initial conservative treatments are typically laid out. Leading spinal surgeons like Dr. Mark C. Valente, Board-certified, fellowship-trained, orthopedic spine surgeon, founder, and Medical Director of the DISC Spine Institute, do not typically recommend surgery right away. Practices such as these use non-invasive and minimally invasive options for back pain wherever possible in their quest to help patients return to a pain-free life.

“The first order of business in herniated disc treatment is called conservative therapy,” said U.S. News & World Report. “You’ll begin with simply avoiding the positions and activities that bring on the pain. Now, this doesn’t mean you’ll lie still. Rather, you’ll likely be given a set of exercises to perform that can help reduce pain while simultaneously strengthening the spine. Anti-inflammatory medication is also usually prescribed to help reduce the irritation of the nerves surrounding the herniated disc. Depending on your precise diagnosis and health history, the medication prescribed can range from over-the-counter options if the pain is mild-moderate to cortisone injections if the pain is more severe. Often, these conservative options are enough to relieve herniated disc symptoms within a few weeks.”

A Physical Therapy program can also be beneficial and is something that is often prescribed by doctors before seriously considering surgery. Physical therapy may include massage and a combination of hot and cold treatments.

If, after several of these conservative options, the pain is persisting, surgery may be on the table. Thankfully, this only applies to a small portion of herniated disk sufferers, and those who do need a surgical procedure today have a minimally invasive option that is quick, easy to tolerate, and requires only a short period of recuperation time to achieve pain relief. The procedure is called minimally invasive discectomy.



What is minimally invasive discectomy?

Minimally invasive discectomy can cure herniated disc pain by taking the pressure off of the compressed nerves, which are the source of the discomfort. This popular surgical procedure is also used for patients who are suffering from spinal stenosis.

The minimally invasive discectomy procedure involves a small incision—less than one inch! Through this tiny incision, the surgeon is able to place a small tube that protects muscles, tendons, and ligaments instead of cutting through them, which is done during a traditional or open procedure. Through the small tube, Dr. Valente accesses the vertebra, using specialized instruments and microscopes to create a small window in the bone to remove the portion of the disc that is responsible for causing the patient pain. “This is typically only 10% of the disc,” said Dr. Valente. “The remaining majority of the disc is left intact.”

Patients appreciate that minimally invasive discectomy requires only local anesthesia, and the procedure takes only about 30 minutes. Instead of the overnight stay—or longer—patients typically have with an open discectomy, they can typically walk right out about an hour after their minimally invasive procedure is over.

You can watch Dr. Valente’s more detailed explanation of the procedure to learn more about what to expect from a minimally invasive discectomy.

Recovering from minimally invasive discectomy

The idea of a long recovery frightens people who have likely already given up months of their life to the pain of a herniated disc. Thankfully, recovery from minimally invasive discectomy is anything but long. While you’re still going to have to wait a bit to go back to the gym and resume other strenuous activities, you’re not going to have an extended period of convalescence like you could after an open procedure—especially if muscles and tissues were damaged.

Listening to your body and following the doctor’s orders is key to a quick recovery and permanent pain relief. There may be some discomfort in the days following the surgery, but nothing some over-the-counter pain medications shouldn’t be able to handle.

When it’s time to put an end to your pain, visit DISC Spine Institute, experts in minimally invasive treatments, the most effective medical procedures to treat and eliminate chronic back pain today. Minimally invasive surgical techniques mean treating chronic back pain is easier than ever, with outpatient treatments, small incisions, and a quicker recovery time instead of a long hospital stay.

Meet with Dr. Valente or Dr. Indresano in person at one of our 7 convenient DFW locations

Ready for life without back pain? Dr. Valente and Dr. Indresano are here to help. Submit your information and our staff will contact you shortly.

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