Discectomy is the removal of the herniated portion of a disc to relieve the pressure on nearby nerves as they exit the spinal canal. Contrary to myths, the disc does not slip out of position like a watermelon seed. Instead, the disc is like a jelly donut, acting as the functional shock absorber between two bony vertebrae.
An injury, or damage from a lifting incident, may cause the jelly center to break through the wall of the disc. When the disc herniates, the jelly center can press on nearby nerves. This causes back or leg pain when the herniation is in the low back, and arm pain if the disc is in the neck area.
In a lumbar discectomy, the surgeon typically only removes the portion of the disc that is causing a problem, not the entire disc. If you have a herniated disc, keep in mind that a disc has a purpose. When you remove a disc, it may cause instability in the joint, and a surgeon may recommend a fusion to re-stabilize the area.
The surgeon can remove the damaged piece of disc through a traditional incision in the back or neck or with a surgical probe, such as in percutaneous discectomy.
Depending on the nature of your disc problem, your surgeon will recommend the most appropriate type of surgery for you.
Cervical is the medical term for "neck." Just as in a lumbar discectomy, the surgeon will remove a piece of damaged disc tissue in the neck area to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots. In some cases, by removing a piece of the shock-absorbing disc that separates the two vertebrae, the structures may become less stable. Consequently, when the disc is removed, a surgeon may recommend "fusing" the vertebrae to prevent instability. This fusion surgery may require a second incision in the front of the neck to gain access to the disc area. A cervical discectomy is best left to surgeons who specialize in spine.