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Back surgery for slipped discs


About back surgery for slipped discs

Your spine is made up of a column of bones called vertebrae. Between each vertebra is an oval pad made of cartilage called an intervertebral disc. Each disc has a tough but flexible outer layer surrounding an inner, softer, gel-like substance. These discs act as shock absorbers, protecting your vertebra as you move and walk around.

A normal disc compared to a slipped disc

A 'slipped disc', also known as a herniated disc or prolapsed disc, is when the outer layer of the disc splits open, allowing the inner gel to bulge out or escape. This causes inflammation and puts pressure on the nearby nerves, resulting in back pain, pain which may travel down through your legs, leg weakness and sometimes numbness around your back.

Around nine out of 10 slipped discs will improve on their own, usually over the course of about 6 weeks.However, if you have a slipped disc that doesn't improve, your doctor may recommend surgery.

How can I prepare for surgery for slipped discs?

If you are planning surgery then you can prepare by taking a list of medications that you're using to give to your doctor. If you are taking any blood thinners, tell your doctor, as you may need to stop these beforehand.

If you are having an endoscopic (keyhole) procedure, you may be treated as a day case. Ask a friend to pick you up, as driving home isn't usually recommended.

If you are staying overnight, remember to pack an overnight bag.

What happens during surgery for slipped dics?

There are several types of surgery for slipped discs.They are usually designed to remove the area of the disc that is bulging out.

Talk to your doctor about the most appropriate type for you. Some of the options include: 

  • Microdiscectomy. This is the most common way of treating slipped discs. Aided with a microscope, you doctor will make a small incision in your back, allowing him or her to remove the fragment of the disc that is pressing on the nerves.
  • Percutaneous endoscopic laser discectomy. This is a type of keyhole surgery. After a small incision is made in your back, a tiny laser is used to remove a fragment of the slipped disc and relieve pressure on nearby nerves.
  • Laminectomy. This is where some of the lamina is removed in your spine to make more room for the nerves. The lamina is a bony arch at the back of each vertebra.This may be carried out in addition to discectomy.
  • Anterior cervical fusion. This is when the disc is removed entirely and a bone graft (a piece of bone) is taken from another area of the body and used to fill the gap. The vertebrae are then fused around this area.
  • Prosthetic intervertebral disc replacement. This is when the slipped disc is partially or fully removed and replaced with an artificial one.

Are there any complications and risks?

Spinal surgery is a controversial area, and there is a lot of debate about what is the most effective procedure.

Like any procedure, surgery for a slipped disc carries some risks, including infection, bleeding or nerve injury. You should talk to your doctor about the risks involved with your procedure.

Recovering from surgery for a slipped disc

Your recovery will vary depending on the type of surgery you have had. The outcomes after a discectomy are generally positive and many people will be able to go back to work and do more daily activities.

Sometimes, your doctor will recommend physiotherapy or exercises to help with your recovery.

How much does surgery for a slipped disc cost?

For a guide to what you could pay for your treatment, click here.

What to do now

Once you have decided that you would like to be treated at an HCA hospital, or would like further information, here's what to do next: 

  1. Call one of our advisors on + 44 (0) 20 7079 4399 or complete our web enquiry form.
  2. Check with your insurance company that your policy covers your treatment, and obtain authorisation.
  3. Visit or call your GP to obtain a referral letter and then call us to make an appointment to visit your chosen consultant and hospital at a time to suit you.
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