Spinal Surgery for a Slipped Disc

Each year, for every 1,000 adults, there are approximately 5 to 20 cases of disc herniation. Also known as a slipped disc, a herniated disc is a prevalent spinal disorder that develops when the interior core of an intervertebral disc burst out through the damaged disc exterior. 

Although a slipped disc can typically be managed with non-invasive methods, there are cases that require surgery. Here, we’ll discuss slipped disc surgery, when it’s needed, and what it entails.

Understanding Disc Herniation

The spinal discs act as cushions in the spine. Located in between each vertebra, the discs absorb impact and reduce the stress imparted on the spinal bones. 

Unfortunately, age-related degeneration, repetitive movements, and sudden trauma to the spine can damage the spinal discs. A disc is considered herniated when the tough disc exterior becomes cracked and the soft disc interior extends outward. 

When this injury occurs, fluid from within the disc can leak into the spinal canal. Here, it can disrupt the spinal nerve function.

A slipped disc in the spine is often the final stage in the process of disc degeneration. This process typically begins with a bulging disc, which occurs when the disc exterior weakens and the disc bulges out to one side. This may progress to a protruding disc before the disc finally ruptures. Although the name may be misleading, a “slipped disc” has not actually shifted position.

Slipped Disc Symptoms

Symptoms of a slipped disc can vary depending on the location of the damaged disc and the severity of the rupture. If a slipped disc doesn’t impart pressure on a nerve, it may be entirely unnoticeable to the patient. However, if a slipped disc does press on adjacent nerves, it may cause pain, numbness, weakness, and tingling.

A slipped disc in the neck, which is known as a slipped cervical disc, may trigger symptoms in the shoulders, arms, or chest. A slipped disc in the lower back, which is known as a slipped lumbar disc, may cause sciatica. This refers to pain that radiates downward from the lower back, causing nerve pain in the buttocks, legs, and feet.

What Can Cause a Slipped Disc?

The most prevalent causes of slipped discs are:

  • Spinal degeneration from the natural aging process

As people age, the spinal discs naturally become drier and weaker. This, along with accumulated wear and tear on the spine over the course of many years, can lead to a slipped disc. Disc herniated most commonly occurs in patients between the ages of 35 and 50

  • Injuries caused by excessive stress on the spinal column

Improperly lifting heavy objects and exercising with improper bodily mechanics are examples of activities that may cause a slipped disc. Athletes in sports that place significant stress on the spine, including football and weightlifting, are often at a heightened risk of disc herniation. 

Smoking, excess body weight and a sedentary lifestyle also increase the risk of developing a slipped disc. Sudden trauma to the spine, (which may occur during an automobile accident, for example) may cause a slipped disc, although it’s rare. 

Slipped Disc Treatments

Treatments for slipped disc include:

  • Physical therapy

Slipped disc treatment without surgery typically involves physical therapy. Targeted slipped disc exercises and PT can alleviate tension, improve your posture, and strengthen the muscles that support the spine.

Additionally, physical therapy can help reduce the pressure of the damaged disc on your spinal nerves. Your physical therapist may recommend alternative therapies such as massage, acupuncture, and electrostimulation to further enhance your recovery process. 

  • Medication to relieve pain and inflammation

Certain medications can be used to manage pain and inflammation from a slipped disc. Over-the-counter options are available, as well as prescription medications from your doctor. Always consult your doctor before starting a new medication. 

  • Surgery

In some cases, surgery for slipped discs is required for the patient to make a full recovery.

When Does a Slipped Disc Require Surgery?

As we’ve already mentioned, slipped discs rarely require surgery and heal with non-invasive methods. However, a slipped disc may require surgery if:

  • Non-invasive methods have failed after several months
  • The patient is experiencing radiating back pain, (known as sciatica), which isn’t responding to conservative methods
  • The patient has constant pain that’s diminishing their quality of life
  • The patient’s basic mobility is compromised (i.e. trouble standing and walking)
  • The patient has neurological symptoms that are noticeably worsening 

Before undergoing an invasive procedure, patients must talk to their doctors and learn about the slipped disc surgery risks. 

What Kind of Surgery is Done For a Slipped Disc?

Decompression surgery is most commonly performed for a slipped disc. This surgical method involves alleviating pressure on the spinal nerves by removing spinal tissue. There are different types of spinal decompression surgery, including discectomy, laminectomy, corpectomy, and foraminotomy. 

Spinal fusion back surgery is often performed in conjunction with surgery for a slipped disc. The fusion stabilizes the spine but eliminates the natural independent motion of the newly-fused vertebrae.

Today, many patients are choosing the TOPS™ (Total Posterior Spine) System as an alternative to spinal fusion surgery. The TOPS™ solution provides better clinical outcomes and preserves the independent motion of the vertebrae. This is just one of the medical advancements bringing new, improved therapies to patients worldwide.

How Long Does it Take to Recover From a Slipped Disc Surgery?

Spinal fusion surgery for a slipped disc involves an extensive recovery period. The procedure itself generally takes 4 to 6 hours to complete, and patients typically remain in the hospital for 2 to 4 days. The complete slipped disc surgery recovery time with spinal fusion may take anywhere from 6 months to a year. 

With the TOPS™ system, the slipped disc surgery recovery period is much less involved than that of spinal fusion. The procedure is considered minimally invasive and typically only lasts for 60 to 120 minutes. 

Patients can generally walk and move around just one day after TOPS™ surgery. After 4 to 6 weeks, patients reach their expected level of mobility. This recovery time for slipped disc surgery can be further aided by physical therapy and a nutrient-dense diet. 

What Is The Success Rate of Slip Disc Operation?

Surgery for slipped discs involving spinal fusion can improve back pain and symptoms at a rate of anywhere from 60% to 90%, depending on the study. For TLIF surgery with spinal fusion, studies have shown that the procedure improves patients’ pain by 60% to 70%, with an 80% satisfaction rate among patients. 

With that said, it’s difficult to determine the success rate of slipped disc surgery with fusion without considering the risks. Patients may lose a significant degree of mobility in this procedure, which can diminish their quality of life.

Additionally, the risk of increased degeneration around the fused segment, which is known as adjacent segment disease, must be taken into account. The prevalence of adjacent segment disease in patients who undergo lumbar spinal fusion ranges from 2% to 14%.

To evaluate the success rate of the TOPS™ System for slipped disc surgery, we can consider the results of a 7-year follow-up study. The study evaluated 10 patients suffering from spinal stenosis with degenerative spondylolisthesis who underwent spinal decompression with TOPS™. 

  • The visual analog scale score for back and leg pain dropped from 56.2 before surgery to 19 7-year post-op mark. 
  • The Oswestry disability questionnaire, which is often used to measure back pain, fell from 83.5 before the procedure to 8.8 at the 7-year post-op mark. 
  • An MRI examination 7 years after the procedure didn’t show spinal stenosis adjacent to the stabilized segment. 

Although spinal surgery for a slipped disc is widely considered to be a last resort, it can help patients achieve pain relief, improved mobility, and a higher quality of life. If you’re experiencing symptoms of disc herniation, schedule an appointment with your doctor for an evaluation.