Lumbar Discectomy

A lumbar discectomy is a surgical procedure your spine surgeon may recommend to remove a herniated disc that is causing back pain and/or leg pain, numbness or muscle weakness. This procedure may be done using minimally invasive spine surgery.

To relieve pressure on the spinal cord and/or nerve roots, your surgeon may suggest a decompressive surgical procedure called a discectomy. Depending on your condition and specific surgical goals, your surgeon may choose to perform this procedure using a minimally invasive approach.

Traditional, open spine surgery involves cutting or stripping the muscles from the spine. Minimally invasive spine surgery involves a small incision or incisions and muscle dilation, allowing the surgeon to separate the muscles surrounding the spine rather than cutting them.

Why is it done?

A minimally invasive lumbar discectomy may be recommended if specific conditions are present. In general, spine surgery is recommended when a herniated disc is pressing into or pinching the spinal cord or the nerve root(s) and you are experiencing:

  • Leg pain that limits your normal daily activities
  • Weakness or numbness in your leg(s) or feet
  • Impaired bowel and/or bladder function
Muscles of the spine are dilated for lumbar discectomy

How is it done?

The Operation

The operation is performed with the patient positioned on his or her stomach.

Herniated Disc Removal

After a small incision is made, the muscles of the spine are dilated, or gently separated, and a tubular retractor is inserted to create a portal through which the surgeon may perform surgery. Through the tubular retractor, a portion of the lamina (the bony vertebral element that covers the posterior portion of the spinal canal) is removed to expose the compressed area of the spinal cord or nerve root(s).

Pressure is relieved by removing of the source of compression—all or part of a herniated disc, a rough protrusion of bone called a bone spur, or in some instances a tumor.


The small incision is closed, which typically only leaves behind a minimal scar.

After Surgery

This minimally invasive procedure typically allows many patients to be discharged the same day of surgery; however, some patients will require a longer hospital stay. Many patients notice immediate improvement in some or all of their symptoms; other symptoms may improve more gradually.

A positive attitude, reasonable expectations and compliance with your doctor's post-surgery instructions may all contribute to a satisfactory outcome.

To determine whether you are a candidate for minimally invasive surgery, talk to your doctor. To find a spine surgeon who performs minimally invasive spine surgery, visit our Find A Doctor locator.

It is important that you discuss the potential risks, complications, and benefits of spinal surgery with your doctor prior to receiving treatment, and that you rely on your physician's judgment. Only your doctor can determine whether you are a suitable candidate for this treatment.

The materials on this Web site are for your general educational information only. Information you read on this Web site cannot replace the relationship that you have with your health care professional. We do not practice medicine or provide medical services or advice as a part of this Web site. You should always talk to your health care professional for diagnosis and treatment.

  • Published: September 14, 2007
  • Updated: April 17, 2008