The operation is designed to take away part of the disc that has bulged (prolapsed) and is pressing on the nerve. This is what causes the pain in the leg(s) known as sciatica.
The operation will be done through a small incision on your back (approximately 2-4cm). When it heals there will be a small scar. Your back may be more painful for 8-12 weeks after surgery. The operation is not designed to relieve any back pain you may be experiencing prior to surgery.
There is an 70-95% chance of relieving your sciatic leg pain with the operation. There is a 3-5% (3-5 in a 100) risk of leakage of the spinal fluid. This may cause headaches or a leaking or bulging wound after surgery. If leakage is seen at the time of surgery you will be asked to lie flat for a day or two as this usually stops the problem.
The risk of wound infection is less that 2%. The risk of infection in the disc is less than 1%. Simple wound infections usually respond to a course of oral antibiotics. Occasionally an operation is required to clean the wound. Discitis is treated with 6-8 weeks of antibiotics and you may need to have intravenous antibiotics for a few weeks. You will be given antibiotic with your anaesthetic to minimise this risk.
There is a risk of nerve damage from the operation. The risk is small (1-2%). It could lead to a numb, painful, weak foot or leg. There is also a small risk (1%) of loss of bladder and bowel function and more extensive paralysis (cauda equina syndrome). This has never happened in this hospital yet, but is a recognised risk of this type of surgery.
The usual length of stay for this surgery is 2 days.
You will be given post-operative advice by your Consultant and our Physiotherapists. As with most spinal surgery you will be advised not to drive for 2 weeks.
The whole disc is not removed in this type of surgery. The disc material that has prolapsed and is pressing on the nerve is removed. There will still be a hole in the disc after surgery and this takes 2-3 weeks to seal with scar tissue. You will be mobile after surgery but are advised not to sit for more than 15 minutes at a time and for only 4 times a day for the first 2 weeks.
Most people take 6-8 weeks off work. Manual workers or those who sit a lot may have to take longer.