Herniated Discs: Surgery and Recovery

October 7, 2011

What is a herniated disc?

A healthy spinal disc is made up of soft inner material known as nucleus pulposus and a tough outer layer called annulus fibrosis. Disc herniation happens when the inner disc material pushes or seeps through the tough outer layer and puts pressure on the nearby nerves. And when this happens, the disc is called a herniated disc.

Depending on the severity of the herniation, herniated discs can be classified into 3 main categories: contained herniated discs, extruded discs, and sequestered discs. If the inner disc material has started to bulge but has not pushed through its outer layer, the herniated disc is called contained disc. If the inner material has pushed through the outer layer but the material is still attached to the disc, the herniated disc is considered extruded disc. However, if the inner disc material has broken away from the disc, the herniated disc is considered a sequestered disc.

When should herniated disc surgery be considered?

Treatment of a herniated disc generally starts with non-surgical treatments (also known as conservative treatments) such as anti-pain medication, anti-inflammatory medication, and physical therapy. For many patients, surgery is not needed because a combination of non-surgical treatment options often is able to relieve the pain.

However, for some patients, non-surgical treatments may not be able to provide long-lasting pain relief. And in some cases, the pain may even get worse. If this is the case, you should talk to your doctor to find out if herniated disc surgery is an option for you.

In some severe cases, a herniated disc can lead to a loss of bladder and/or bowel function. When this happen, you should consider herniated disc surgery/herniated disc operation immediately.

What is herniated disc surgery recovery like?

The answer to this question is dependent on what type of herniated disc surgery you are considering. There are various types of herniated disc operation out there. And the herniated disc surgery recovery process varies from one type of herniated disc operation to another type of herniated disc operation.

Open spine surgery and minimally invasive spine surgery are currently the two main types of spine surgery for the treatment of back and neck pain caused by herniated discs. The two types of surgery offer similar clinical outcomes and success rates, but the surgical procedures and the post-surgical recovery processes are quite different.

The following table shows you some of the main differences in the recovery of open spine surgery and minimally invasive spine surgery.

Type of Herniated Disc Surgery

Herniated Disc Surgery Recovery

Hospital stay Walking Recovery time
Open spine surgery 3-5 days 2-4 days ≥ 6 months
Minimally invasive spine surgery No Same day 4-6 weeks

As you can see, minimally invasive spine surgery is associated with much faster recovery than open spine surgery. Because of its fast recovery and many other advantages, minimally invasive spine surgery has gained great popularity in recent years.

Endoscopic discectomy and endoscopic foraminotomy are 2 main types of minimally invasive spine surgery used for the treatment of herniated discs. For more information about endoscopic discectomy and endoscopic foraminotomy offered at the Atlantic Spinal Care, visit our Endoscopic treatment information section.