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Bulging disc surgery is a treatment option for patients with bulging discs in the spinal column that do not respond to less invasive treatment methods. A spinal disc can squeeze out from between the vertebrae as a result of a back injury or spinal condition. While a bulging disc is not a problem in and of itself, it can lead to pain, numbness, and weakness in the back, legs, and arms.
Doctors typically treat patients with bulging discs conservatively before resorting to surgery to correct the problem. Many back problems heal on their own with rest, pain medication, and physical therapy. Back surgery is usually only considered after several months of little to no improvement, or when the disc problems are so severe that they prevent the patient from working or engaging in everyday activities.
The most common type of bulging disc surgery is a discectomy. During this, a surgeon removes a portion of the bulged disc to relieve pressure on the nerve causing the pain or weakness. Surgeons often must remove part of the vertebra above or below the bulged disc to access it adequately. Most patients require physical therapy following the procedure and it may take several months before they can fully return to physical activities.
While many patients experience relief from back pain and further disc problems after a discectomy, some continue to have problems with bulging discs. If a discectomy is not sufficient to correct the patient’s problem, a doctor may consider performing a different kind of disc surgery.
A lumbar fusion connects two or more vertebrae together to reduce pain from an injured disc bulging between them. Lumbar fusion is very successful at eliminating pain and other problems from a bulging disc, but it does increase the risk of weakening the discs and vertebrae above and below the fused portion. This can sometimes necessitate further surgeries. Depending on which vertebrae are fused, the patient may also lose some range of motion in the spine.
A third option for bulging disc surgery is replacing the injured disc completely. A surgeon can replace a bulged disc with a synthetic disc, which helps reduce the risk of further problems that would require therapy or surgery. Replacing a disc entirely is usually a last resort reserved for patients who continue to experience problems with bulging discs after other treatments and surgeries, or for patients whose discs have worn thin or degenerated to the point where they are no longer viable for cushioning the vertebrae.