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Understanding the Impact on the Spine Following Discectomy Surgery


7.21 - What Happens to the Spine After Discectomy Surgery

Discectomy surgery is a common procedure performed to alleviate pain caused by a herniated or damaged disc in the spine. This surgical intervention involves the removal of the affected disc material to relieve pressure on nearby nerves and restore proper spinal function. While discectomy surgery provides substantial relief for many patients, it is important to understand the impact it can have on the spine in the long run.

Understanding Spinal Anatomy

Before addressing the changes that occur after discectomy surgery, it is crucial to have a basic understanding of spinal anatomy. The spine consists of individual bones called vertebrae, which are separated by intervertebral discs that act as shock absorbers and facilitate flexibility. Each disc consists of a tough outer layer called the annulus fibrosus and a gel-like center called the nucleus pulposus.

Benefits of Discectomy Surgery

Discectomy surgery can provide immediate or gradual relief from the pain and discomfort caused by a herniated disc. It can also improve the function and mobility of the affected area of the spine. Discectomy surgery can prevent further damage to the spinal cord or nerves, which could lead to more serious complications such as nerve damage, paralysis, or loss of bladder or bowel control.

Changes in the Spine Post-Surgery

Following discectomy surgery, the removal of the damaged or herniated disc (also known as a slipped disc or bulging disc) can result in certain changes within the spine. The space previously occupied by the disc may experience a slight decrease in height, which could impact the overall stability and alignment of the vertebral segments. However, these changes are typically minimal and rarely cause significant issues for patients.

Healing Process and Recovery Timeline

After the surgical removal of the damaged disc, the body initiates a healing process to restore the spine's functionality. Initially, scar tissue forms at the surgical site, providing stability and support. Over time, this scar tissue remodels, and nearby tissues and structures adapt to compensate for the absence of the disc. The recovery timeline varies from person to person, but most individuals can expect significant improvement within a few weeks to a few months.

Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy

To aid in the recovery process, rehabilitation and physical therapy play crucial roles. These programs focus on strengthening the supporting muscles around the spine, increasing flexibility, and restoring normal movement patterns. Physical therapy may include exercises to enhance posture as well as education for patients on proper body mechanics and pain management strategies. Following the guidance of healthcare professionals during this phase is vital for a successful recovery.

Long-Term Outlook and Preventive Measures

Over the long term, most individuals experience substantial relief from pain and improved functionality after discectomy surgery. However, it is essential to maintain a healthy spine and prevent future issues. Engaging in regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, practicing good posture, and using proper body mechanics are all essential preventive measures. It is also advisable to avoid excessive strain on the spine and consult a healthcare professional before engaging in strenuous activities or heavy lifting.

Whether a patient has a traditional discectomy, a less invasive microdiscectomy, or spinal fusion surgery, recovery time, pain levels, and other post-surgery issues vary among individuals. An additional factor affecting outcomes is if a large hole forms in the outer ring of the disc after surgery. If the hole in the disc is larger than a standard pencil eraser, the patient has a significant risk of experiencing a reherniation. Patients with a large hole in the outer ring of the disc are more than twice as likely to reherniate after surgery. These reherniations often require additional surgery or even a larger spinal fusion operation. Barricaid is a bone-anchored device shown to reduce reherniations by closing the hole in the disc after a discectomy, and 95 percent of Barricaid patients did not undergo a reoperation due to reherniation in a 2-year study timeframe. This treatment is done immediately following the discectomy—during the same operation—and does not require any additional incisions or time in the hospital. 
If you have any questions about the Barricaid treatment, ask your doctor or contact us at 844-288-7474.


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