Microdiscectomy and Decompression
Decompression is a surgical procedure that is performed to alleviate pain caused by pinched nerves. It is also used to correct spinal stenosis that causes the inability to stand or walk for an extended period of time.
During a lumbar decompression surgery, a small portion of the bone over the nerve root/spinal canal or disc material from under the nerve root is removed to give the nerve root/spinal canal more space. There are two common types of spine surgery decompression procedures: microdiscectomy (sometimes called microdecompression) and decompression (sometimes called laminectomy).
A microdiscectomy is typically performed for pain from herniated discs in the lower back. When a disc herniates—or squeezes against the spinal nerves—it can cause leg pain or lumbar radiculopathy.
A microdiscectomy is usually more effective for relieving leg pain than lower back pain. Many patients feel immediate pain relief, while neurological symptoms like numbness and weakness resolve when the nerve root heals fully. This typically takes several weeks to months.
If leg pain due to a disc herniation is going to get better without intervention, it will generally improve within six weeks of the onset of pain. As long as the pain is manageable and the patient has not developed any weakness, it is usually recommended to postpone surgery until it’s clear the pain is not resolving. However, the results of surgery are somewhat less favorable after three to six months from the start of symptoms, so leg pain should be addressed as soon as possible.
A lumbar laminectomy (or open decompression) is typically performed for pain or weakness from lumbar spinal stenosis. The goal of the surgery is to allow more room for the spinal canal, nerve root, or both. This can relieve the associated pain, numbness, weakness, and symptoms of neurogenic claudication. Decompression is designed to restore the patient’s ability to enjoy everyday activities. Watch a video on how decompression works.