Percutaneous disc decompression is revolutionary procedure that can relieve the pain from herniated or protruding intervertebral discs. Almost everyone will have back pain at some point, and about 35 percent of that pain will be due to displaced discs. Percutaneous disc decompression is a wonderful advancement in medical care that offers a faster, less invasive treatment with lasting results.
Your spine is made up of individual bones called vertebrae. Between every two vertebrae are the intervertebral discs that cushion the bones and allow your spine to bend. The discs are made up of a gel-like pulpy center that is encased in an outer layer of tough, fibrous cartilage.
Your discs can become deformed or displaced in a number of ways. An awkward twisting, pivoting, or lifting motion is often the cause, especially in younger patients. As you age, your discs may begin to deteriorate, which can either directly result in pain or leave you more vulnerable to injury.
When a disc is damaged, it may protrude or herniate. A protruding disc is intact, but has been squished out of place. A herniated disc has torn, allowing the gel inside to be pushed through the cartilage. Both conditions create pressure on the surrounding nerves, resulting in pain.
Symptoms and Signs of Damaged Discs
Pain is usually the symptom that first prompts a visit to the doctor. Pain that radiates from the back through the limbs is a common symptom. Your doctor will confirm the diagnosis with simple physical tests as well as imaging tools like CT or MRI scans. The best candidate for percutaneous disc decompression is someone with a small, contained herniation.
Percutaneous Disc Decompression Procedure
The surgical procedure is performed on an outpatient basis and takes anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes. You will be given a light sedation and placed face down on the table. You will receive a local anesthetic at the surgical site.
The first step in the procedure is to make a tiny incision in the back. Using fluoroscopy, which is a type of X-ray imaging, to insure proper placement, the surgeon will guide a small needle or cannula through the incision and into the disc. You may feel slight pressure, but the procedure is not painful.
There are a couple of different techniques that can be used to accomplish the decompression, but they all involve the removal of a small bit of the inner pulp of the disc. One technique uses suction to pull out a bit of the material. Another destroys the tissue with radio waves, and a third uses a laser. Whichever technique your surgeon uses, the end result is that the space created by the removed tissue allows the disc to withdraw back into its healthy position. This relieves pressure on the nerves, thereby relieving your pain.
You will typically be able to return home within an hour of the end of the procedure. The cut made in your back will be so small that it will not require sutures, but it will be covered by a small bandage. You should plan on one to three days of bed rest to allow the surgical area to heal.
For the first few weeks after your surgery, you should avoid any unnecessary driving, bending, or twisting, and should not lift anything that weighs more than about ten pounds. Your recovery will usually include physical therapy that will begin about two weeks after the procedure. The purpose of the therapy is to help you regain strength in your back and to teach you how to move properly to avoid re-injury. Most patients can return to their normal activities within six weeks.
Percutaneous Disc Decompression vs. Traditional Treatment
Percutaneous disc decompression has several advantages over traditional treatments like open-back surgery, repeated rounds of physical therapy, and long-term use of painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs. The newer treatment causes much less damage to muscle and other tissues than open-back surgery. This results in fewer complications like infection, blood loss, and scarring.
This minimally invasive technique has also proven to provide lasting results and high patient satisfaction. The surgery provides almost instant pain relief and a return to full function with no danger of relapse.