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Disc Decompression – An Overview

  • Category: Spine Conditions
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: DR. HAMID ABBASI

Also known as percutaneous discectomy, disc decompression is a minimally invasive outpatient spinal procedure used by doctors to treat painful discs in the spine. This procedure is performed by interventional pain management physicians or neurosurgeons.

What is the Benefit of a Disc Decompression over Back Surgery?

The benefit of a disc decompression procedure is that it is equally effective as an open laminectomy or discectomy, and it allows for a much more rapid recovery. Many patients achieve pain relief without having to undergo serious back surgery.

Who is a Candidate for Disc Decompression?

A disc decompression is performed on people who have radicular pain, which is pain that radiates along the spinal nerve distribution pathway. Candidates for this procedure include:

  • Anyone with a herniated disc of the lumbar spine who has pain radiating down the leg.
  • Anyone with a herniated disc of the cervical spine who has pain radiating down the arm.
  • Patients who failed to improve with usual conservative treatment modalities, such as physical therapy, spine injections, and medications.
  • Patients with mild to moderate spinal disease.
  • Patients with a positive discogram that confirms the target disc is the cause of the pain.

How is the Disc Decompression Procedure Performed

The disc decompression procedure is a brief 30- to 45-minute outpatient, x-ray guided minimally invasive keyhole surgery. The procedure is performed under local anesthesia and light intravenous sedation, so you are relaxed and comfortable. After you are positioned face down on the table, the doctor cleans the skin using an antiseptic.

A cannula with needle is positioned into the painful disc under real-time x-ray. Disc decompression involves removing a portion of the nucleus pulposus material. After reliving pressure on the nerve, the probe is removed, and the site is covered with a bandage.

Does Disc Decompression Hurt?

A light sedative is administered, so you have little memory of the procedure. The doctor first numbs the skin and deeper tissues with lidocaine or another local anesthetic. Expect to feel a slight pinching sensation when the small needle goes in.

Because anesthetics are used, you will not feel the procedure needle, but may experience pressure. Expect a little soreness at the sight and a mild increase in back pain for 1-3 days. You will be back to usual activities within a few days.

Preparing for Disc Decompression

You cannot eat or drink anything after midnight the night before your procedure. Because you are given a sedative, arrange to have someone drive you home. You should shower with an antibacterial soap the day of your procedure (Dial or Lever 2000), and take your usual medicines with a small sip of water. Because bleeding is a complication, notify the doctor of any medications you are taking, as certain anti-inflammatory drugs and blood thinners are to be held.

A back brace is recommended after the procedure, so purchase one from the local pharmacy or medical supply store. This can be worn during waking hours.

Disc Decompression Recovery

The recovery following disc decompression is quite rapid. Since disc decompression is performed without anesthesia, you get up and walk out from the surgical center within 1-2 hours of completion.

We recommend that you rest for 5-10 days while you work with a physical therapist to strengthen weakened leg and back muscles. In addition, therapy helps improve flexibility and range of motion.

How Effective is Disc Decompression?

According to a recent clinical study, patients who had single-level lumbar decompression without discectomy had similar post-surgical outcomes as those persons who underwent discectomy and laminotomy. In addition, disc decompression patients enjoy reduced pain and early mobilization along with a satisfactory functional and neurological outcome.


Jayarao M & Chin LS (2010). Results after lumbar decompression with and without discectomy: comparison of the transspinous and conventional approaches. Neurosurgery, 66(3), 152-160.