Surgery is not the primary form of treatment for a bulging disc. If you have been experiencing painful bulging disc symptoms, the typical treatment is a combination of conservative options. Conservative treatment for a bulging disc includes rest, heat and ice therapy, exercise and stretching, physical therapy, lifestyle modification, pain medication and steroid injections. If after a few months of conservative treatment you are still experiencing painful symptoms, bulging disc surgery may be indicated to avoid permanent nerve and muscle damage.

Bulging disc surgery

The most common type of bulging disc surgery is a decompression procedure called a discectomy. During a discectomy, the surgeon removes the portion of the disc that is compressing a nearby nerve root or the spinal cord. When the surgeon removes a portion of the disc, the nerve is decompressed and symptoms should be relieved.

In addition to a discectomy, bulging disc surgery can also be performed using a laminotomy, foraminotomy, artificial disc surgery or spinal fusion, depending on the specific location and condition of the spine problem.

  • Laminotomy. A laminotomy procedure removes the portion of the lamina that is compressing a nerve.
  • Foraminotomy. The surgeon removes the bone, disc or tissue that is narrowing the foramina during a foraminotomy.
  • Artificial disc surgery. During artificial disc surgery, the surgeon removes the affected disc and replaces it with an artificial disc.
  • Spinal fusion. Spinal fusion use bone grafts or implants to fuse two vertebrae together permanently to add stability to the spine.

Open back surgery for a bulging disc

The procedures detailed above can be performed as open back surgery or as minimally invasive back surgery. Open back surgery, sometimes referred to as traditional open spine surgery, refers to the process of using surgical tools to cut through muscles and soft tissue to reach the affected area of the spine. Open back surgery is performed under general anesthesia and typically requires a two- to five-day stay in the hospital. Because open back surgery requires a large incision and disrupts muscles and soft tissue in order to perform the procedure, the recovery period can be lengthy and there can be scarring. As with any type of surgical procedure, open back surgery for a bulging disc has some risk associated with it including, bleeding, infection, nerve damage, failed back surgery syndrome and the risk of re-injuring the area.