Find a physician

Lumbar Discectomy: Potential Side Effects


3.6 - What-Are-the-Possible-Side-Effects-of-a-Lumbar-Discectomy

A lumbar discectomy is a surgical procedure that is performed to relieve back pain caused by a herniated disc in the lumbar spine. This procedure involves removing the portion of the disc that is pressing against the spinal cord or nerve roots. While a lumbar discectomy is generally safe and effective, it is important to be aware of the potential side effects that may occur as a result of the surgery. This article explains some of these possible side effects.

Pain and Discomfort 

One of the most common side effects of a lumbar discectomy is pain and discomfort at the incision site. This pain can be managed with medication and usually subsides within a few days after the surgery. However, some patients may experience more severe or chronic pain after the procedure. In rare cases, the surgery may not provide relief from pain, or new pain may develop.

Numbness and Tingling

Another possible side effect of a lumbar discectomy is numbness and tingling in the legs or feet. This is often caused by swelling and inflammation around the nerves that were affected by the herniated disc. In most cases, this numbness and tingling will subside within a few weeks of the surgery, but if it persists, it is important to notify your doctor.


Infection is a potential risk with any surgical procedure, including a lumbar discectomy. Patients are usually given antibiotics to prevent infection, and the surgical site is cleaned and sterilized to reduce the risk of infection. However, in some cases, an infection may occur after the surgery, which can cause pain, fever, and other symptoms. If an infection does occur, it may need to be treated with antibiotics or other measures.

Nerve Damage 

A lumbar discectomy involves working around delicate nerve roots and other structures in the spine. In rare cases, these structures may be damaged during the surgery, which can cause weakness, numbness, or tingling in the legs, feet, or other areas of the body. In some cases, nerve damage may be permanent, although this is rare.

Blood Clots

Blood clots are a potential risk with any surgery, including a lumbar discectomy. If a blood clot forms in the leg, it can cause pain, swelling, and redness in the affected area. In some cases, a blood clot can travel to the lungs, which can be life-threatening. To reduce the risk of blood clots, patients are often given blood thinners and encouraged to get up and walk around as soon as possible after the surgery.

Bowel or Bladder Dysfunction

In rare cases, lumbar discectomy surgery may cause bowel or bladder dysfunction. This may occur if the nerves that control these functions are damaged during the surgery. Symptoms of bowel or bladder dysfunction may include difficulty urinating, loss of bowel or bladder control, or constipation. These symptoms may be temporary or permanent, depending on the extent of the nerve damage.

Recurrent Herniation

In some cases, a herniated disc may recur after a lumbar discectomy. This may happen if the disc is not fully removed during the initial surgery or another disc becomes herniated over time. Recurrent herniation can cause pain and other symptoms and may require additional herniated disc surgery.

Adverse Reaction to Anesthesia 

A lumbar discectomy requires the use of anesthesia, which carries its own risks. In rare cases, patients may experience an adverse reaction to the anesthesia, which can cause allergic reactions or other complications. Signs of an allergic reaction to anesthesia or other medications used during the surgery include hives, itching, difficulty breathing, and swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat. To reduce the risk of complications, patients are carefully monitored throughout the surgery and during the recovery period.

What to Expect during Recovery

After lumbar discectomy surgery, most patients will spend a few days in the hospital for observation and pain management. Once you are discharged, it is important to follow your doctor's instructions carefully to ensure a smooth and speedy recovery.

You will likely need to take it easy for a few weeks after the surgery, avoiding strenuous activity and heavy lifting. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy to help you regain strength and flexibility in your back and legs.

Although discectomy surgery is generally a very successful procedure, patients with a larger hole in the outer ring of the disc have a significantly higher risk of reherniation following surgery. Often, the surgeon will not know the size of the hole until he or she begins surgery. A new treatment, Barricaid, which is a bone-anchored device proven to reduce reherniations, was specifically designed to close the large hole often left in the spinal disc after discectomy. This treatment is done immediately following the discectomy—during the same operation—and does not require any additional incisions or time in the hospital. In a large-scale study, 95 percent of Barricaid patients did not undergo a reoperation due to reherniation in the 2-year study time frame. 

If you have any questions about the Barricaid treatment or how to get access to Barricaid, ask your doctor or contact us at 844-288-7474.

For full benefit/risk information, please visit: