Slipped Disc Surgery: Spinal Decompression

A slipped disc is a relatively common spinal injury. While many cases of a slipped disc can be effectively treated without surgery, severe cases may require surgical care to prevent chronic pain. 

Spinal decompression is a surgical treatment method that’s often used to resolve pain and lost spinal function caused by a herniated disc. This procedure can relieve pressure on spinal nerves so that patients no longer experience pain with everyday activities. 

Here, we’ll discuss slipped discs, the process for spinal decompression surgery, and how the TOPS spinal implant can serve as an effective alternative to fusion during this surgical procedure. 

What is a Slipped Disc?

Also called a herniated, ruptured, or bulging disc, a slipped disc occurs as a result of damage to one of the spinal discs. Spinal discs are located in between each vertebra of the spine. These discs help connect the vertebrae to form the spine, absorb shock, and contribute to the spine’s mobility. 

The spinal discs consist of a firm, rubbery exterior, called the annulus, and a supple, jelly-like interior, called the nucleus. To retain their strength and function, spinal discs need hydration. The aging process can cause the spinal discs to dry out, which increases the risk of damage. 

A slipped disc can occur when a tear develops in the annulus of a spinal disc. The nucleus can press out through this tear and may put pressure on nearby nerves. 

Causes of a Slipped Disc

There are two key causes of a slipped disc: age-related disc degeneration and sudden trauma. 

  • Age-related degeneration

As people age, the spinal discs gradually dry out and experience a significant amount of wear and tear. This heightens the risk of injury, such as a slipped disc. 

  • Sudden trauma

A sudden back injury may exhibit enough force to damage a spinal disc. This is somewhat common with car accident injuries like whiplash.

Common Symptoms of a Slipped Disc

A significant portion of people who sustain a slipped disc have no symptoms. However, if the disc presses on a nearby nerve or muscle, pain often results. 

Pain caused by slipped discs can vary significantly. With this injury, you may experience pain when you:

  • Walk
  • Straighten your legs or arms
  • Sit or stand for an extended period

A slipped disc can also cause:

  • Pain that intensifies at night
  • Pain on one side of the body
  • Numbness, often on one side of the body
  • Muscle weakness
  • Achiness in the back
  • Burning or tingling sensations in the back

Defining Spinal Decompression Surgery

Spinal decompression surgery is an umbrella term for procedures that resolve compression on the spinal nerves and/or spinal cord. Types of spinal decompression surgery include:

  • Discectomy

In a discectomy, the damaged part of a spinal disc is removed to lessen the strain on the adjacent nerves. For cases of a bulging disc that require surgery, discectomy is the most common procedure to perform.   

  • Foraminectomy/foraminotomy

Foraminectomy and foraminotomy are done to enlarge the nerve root openings out of the spinal cord. Tissue and some bone are removed in these procedures. Generally, foraminectomy is used to describe a procedure in which a sizable portion of tissue and bone is removed. 

  • Laminectomy/Laminotomy

Laminectomy and laminotomy are procedures that involve removing some or all of the lamina, which covers the spinal canal. In laminectomy, the whole lamina is removed, while only some of the lamina is removed during laminotomy. 

  • Corpectomy

In corpectomy, a vertebra and the spinal discs are removed. This procedure often requires spinal fusion to restore the spine’s stability. 

  • Osteophyte removal

Osteophyte removal is a procedure designed to remove bone spurs, which can alleviate pressure on spinal nerves.  

How Can Spinal Decompression Surgery Help With a Slipped Disc?

In spinal decompression surgery, pressure on the spinal nerves is released. This helps reduce nerve irritation while creating an environment in which the affected nerves can heal. 

As patients heal from spinal decompression surgery, they’ll notice a reduction in pain, tingling, weakness, and related symptoms from a slipped disc. Spinal surgery can also allow patients to return to activities that previously caused pain from a herniated disc.  

It’s important to note that recovery from spinal decompression surgery can take several months. Patients will likely be referred to a physical therapist to expedite the healing process. 

Spinal Fusion During Spinal Decompression Surgery

Spinal fusion is commonly performed along with spinal decompression surgery to renew spinal stability. Given that tissue is removed from the spine during this surgical procedure, stability is often a large concern.  

In spinal fusion, the surgeon places bone graft material in between the affected vertebrae. In the months following the procedure, the graft will stimulate the fusion of the two vertebrae. Eventually, the two spinal bones will become one. 

Although spinal fusion is effective for preventing spinal instability, it has several cons, including:

  • Extended time in the hospital after spinal surgery (up to four days)
  • Longer recovery process
  • Reduced back mobility with a possible need for tools to pick up items off of the floor
  • Increased risk of degeneration for nearby vertebrae, which could lead to future injuries

After spinal fusion, some patients are no longer able to bend or twist. This can place severe limits on their physical activities. So, many patients and physicians are now exploring spinal fusion alternatives for freedom of motion.  

Spinal Fusion Alternatives

Patients who are recommended to undergo spinal decompression surgery for a slipped disc should consider asking about all of their treatment options. As an alternative to spinal fusion, the ​​TOPS™ System can reduce the trauma on the spinal tissues and allow for a shorter recovery period. 

The TOPS system is a spinal implant that, unlike spinal fusion, moves with the spine. This allows patients to regain their regular range of motion quickly after surgery. With the TOPS system, patients aren’t limited in their movements after spinal decompression surgery. 

If you’re considering spinal decompression surgery for a slipped, ask your doctor if the Premia Spine TOPS system is a good option for you.