There are several kinds of spinal surgery that are done to alleviate pain. There is microdiscectomy (formerly known as lumbar laminectomy), lumbar fusion, fixation, and decompressive laminectomy. These are some of the more common and frequently performed procedures done for patients suffering from spinal pain and injury.
Microdiscectomy is a surgery that is done for patients who have just a herniated disc or a simple ruptured disc. There should be no other problems with your spine besides this. It is done through a small incision, usually about an inch or less, if your doctor has the special instruments and magnification to do so. This causes less damage to the muscle and that means less pain and quicker recovery time for you. Most patients these days are using epidural instead of the general anesthesia. In this surgery, the doctor will only remove the ruptured part of the disc since the disc is the cushion between your vertebrae.
Lumbar Fusion is done for patients that need to have more stability between their vertebrae. The patient will get a bone fusion from their back, pelvis, or an artificial bone supplement. The bone will be prepared and fused between the vertebrae that are unstable. This procedure will allow for new bone growth and it will also stop motion involving those vertebrae. For about three months after the surgery, patients will wear a back brace to allow the bone graft and vertebrae to fuse together. There will be several x-rays to see if there is any need for internal fixation (rods and screws) if the fusion is not where it needs to be.
Fixation of the fusion may be required if there needs to be more stability to the spine. Rods and screws will be used to make the spine more rigid and to stabilize the fused bones. When there is a concrete fusion of the bones, there really is no need to have the rods and screws removed.
Lastly, there is decompressive laminectomy which is mostly used for patients that have a small spinal canal (spinal stenosis). This condition is frequently due to arthritis in the spinal canal that cause the bone spurs and broadening of the ligaments. This will cause pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. The doctor will remove bone from the spinal canal to allow more room for the nerves and spinal cord. The incision will be longer than the microdiscectomy and the patient will usually spend a night or two in the hospital.
Also, make sure that your doctor explains all the details of the surgery. You need to know what will be done to your spine, how long recovery will take, and what are some problems that may occur. Your doctor should be willing to sit down with you and talk about all of these things and any further questions you may have for him/her.