Bulging disc surgery is occasionally required for patients who experience debilitating symptoms from nerve compression in the spine. Most commonly seen in the lumbar spine (low back) and cervical spine (neck), a bulging disc causes nerve compression when a spinal disc becomes swollen and leaks into the spinal column.
Bulging discs sometimes irritate a nearby nerve, causing a variety of potential side effects, such as pain, tingling and muscle weakness. These symptoms can severely affect your quality of life, so it’s important to explore all of your treatment options as soon as you are diagnosed.
For most people experiencing a bulging disc, surgery is usually used only as a last resort. In most cases, bulging discs can be treated with a conservative, nonsurgical treatment plan. Low-impact exercises, stretching techniques, pain medication and heat therapy are all effective options for easing pain and other bulging disc symptoms. Ask your physician about nonsurgical treatment options that may work best for you.
Bulging disc surgery options
Only in the event that conservative treatments have failed to adequately relieve your symptoms over several weeks or months will bulging disc surgery be considered. The primary goal of surgery is to decompress the affected nerve by removing part or the entire disc. If you have been recommended for surgery to treat your bulging disc, it’s important to realize that you may not have to endure a highly invasive open neck and back procedure.
The main bulging disc surgery options comes in two forms:
- Open neck and back surgery — Open spine procedures have been the default option in the field of spine surgery for decades. Nerve decompression is usually accomplished by removing the bulging part of the disc. Sometimes the whole disc must be removed, which requires fusing the vertebrae together with hardware and bone grafts, which can lead to a loss of flexibility. Open spine procedures are usually highly invasive, require overnight hospitalization and involve a lengthy recovery. There is also the risk of pain transference to another spine segment and other potential side effects such as infections, complications and failed back surgery syndrome.
Minimally invasive spine surgery — A safer and more effective alternative to open back surgery, minimally invasive procedures use micro-instruments that are inserted through small incisions. These instruments allow your surgeon to carefully remove the piece of the bulging disc that is causing compression, without requiring fusion. These outpatient procedures offer a number of benefits over traditional open neck and back surgery, including shorter recovery periods, a less difficult rehabilitation, lower risks of infection and less chance of complication.
To see if you may be a candidate for one of these bulging disc surgery options, consult with your physician.