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When non-surgical treatments fail to provide adequate relief from the symptoms of back pain your surgeon may suggest surgery. The goal of all spine operations is to remove pressure from the nerves of the spine, and to reduce excessive motion between vertebrae. The type of surgery that is best depends on the patient's conditions, symptoms and history.

  • Laminectomy
  • Discectomy


A laminectomy is a surgical procedure to relieve pressure on the spinal nerve roots by removing the lamina and any bony growths or ruptured disc material.  The lamina is the layer that covers the bony ring of the spinal canal. When the nerves in the canal are squeezed by a herniated disc or from bone spurs, this procedure is used to release the pressure on the spinal nerves. Only your surgeon can determine if you are a candidate for this surgery or if another type would better suit your unique situation.

Minimally Invasive Discectomy

Discectomy is a surgical procedure to remove a portion of a disc to relieve pressure on the nearby nerve roots.

Many surgeons now perform minimally invasive discectomy procedures that require only small incisions in the low back. The advantage of this procedure is that there is less risk of damage to the back muscles and a faster recovery. Only your surgeon can determine if you are a candidate for this surgery or if another type would better suit your unique situation.


While uncommon, complications can occur during and after surgery. Some complications include infection, blood clots, nerve damage, spinal fluid leak and blood loss. Although surgery is extremely successful in most cases, some patients still experience stiffness and pain. Be sure to discuss these and other risks with your surgeon.

Preparing for Surgery

Patients should begin preoperative strengthening exercises to help them prepare for surgery and their recovery. Patients may be given a comprehensive nutrition plan to help ensure optimum health before surgery.

There are many things that your surgeon may do to minimize the potential for complications. Your surgeon may have you see a medical physician before surgery to obtain tests. You may also need to have your dental work up to date and may be shown how to prepare your home to avoid falls.

After Surgery

After surgery, you probably will be hospitalized for 1 to 2 days. During this time, you will receive pain medication and begin physical therapy. It is important to start moving as soon as possible after surgery to promote blood flow, maintain mobility, decrease the risk of scar tissue, and to facilitate the recovery process. You should be out of bed and walking within 24 hours of your surgery.

Before you leave the hospital, your therapist will show you a variety of exercises designed to help you regain mobility and strength in your spine. You should be able to perform these exercises on your own at home. You will be shown how to safely climb and descend stairs, and how to get into and out of a seated position.

At home, it is important to continue with your exercises as your physician has instructed. It is a good idea to enlist the help of friends or family to help you once you do return home.


Every person’s recovery time will vary, but most people should be able to ride a bike or swim after a couple weeks. Most people with jobs that are not physically challenging can return to work in 2 to 4 weeks or less. Those with jobs that require heavy lifting or operating heavy machinery that can cause intense vibration may need to wait at least 6 to 8 weeks after surgery to return to work.

At home, you may have some minor restrictions such as not sitting for long periods of time, not lifting objects more than five pounds, or excessive bending or stretching for the first 4 weeks after surgery. Also, you should not attempt to drive an automobile until you have been instructed to do so by your physician.

Your surgeon will tell you when you can return to these activities and will also tell you which activities to avoid.

All patient education materials are provided by and have been reviewed by our Advisory Board of leading Orthopedic Surgeons to ensure accuracy. All materials are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for medical advice from your orthopedic surgeon. Any medical decisions should be made after consulting a qualified physician. This site includes links to other web sites. takes no responsibility for the content or information contained in the linked sites.

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Washington Joint Institute

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