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Private surgery to correct a damaged or herniated disc

Doctor showing patient spinal x-ray ahead of their discectomy
A private discectomy is an operation to remove part of a damaged disc in your spine, relieving difficult symptoms such as pain, weakness or numbness caused by a bulging or slipped disc in your back.

Not all slipped discs will need to be operated on, and many won’t cause symptoms at all. But if you have chronic symptoms caused by a slipped disc that are affecting your quality of life, you may be recommended surgery.

A discectomy is a common and successful type of spinal surgery. It is a common element of spinal decompression surgery, which is performed to reduce pressure on your spinal nerves.

At Circle Health Group, we work with experienced consultant surgeons who specialise in spinal procedures such as discectomies. We have over 50 locations across the UK and are ready and waiting to help you. Give us a call or book online today and you’ll usually be able to book your first consultation within 48 hours.

Your spinal discs are soft areas of tissue that act as cushions between your back bones (vertebrae), which are the bones in your spine. A herniated disc, commonly known as a slipped disc, means one of these has moved from its correct position.

A slipped disc can press on nearby spinal nerves, causing symptoms including:

  • Neck or back pain
  • Buttock, hip or leg pain (also known as sciatica)
  • Numbness or tingling in your shoulders or back, legs and feet or hands and arms
  • Reduced muscle strength in these same areas
  • Problems bending over or standing up straight

Do I need a discectomy?

Most people with a slipped disc will not need surgery to fix the problem. Often a herniated disc will heal naturally, aided by rest and perhaps anti-inflammatory medicines, steroid injections or muscle relaxers, or painkillers. Some people might also need a course of physiotherapy.

In some cases, symptoms persist even after time and the use of the above conservative treatment methods. If you are living with long-term pain, or any other chronic symptoms of a slipped disc, a discectomy could correct the problem and help you get back to normal life.

The cost of a discectomy operation at Circle Health Group will depend on various factors, including what procedures you are having and how complex your surgery is, as well as which hospital and consultant you choose.

If you are paying for your own treatment, we'll give you a fixed-price treatment package ahead of time, so you always know what you're paying for. This includes your aftercare and physiotherapy, as well as any follow-up appointments you need. However, your initial outpatient appointment with your consultant will be charged separately, as will any tests or scans you have at the time to help us make a diagnosis.

Our self-pay patients can take advantage of our flexible payment options, which allow you to spread the cost of treatment over a period of up to five years, with interest-free options available.

If you have private health insurance, spinal surgery will usually be covered by your provider. Speak to your insurer directly to find out.

Your treatment for back problems at Circle Health Group will usually start with an initial consultation with a spinal surgeon. This is a very important appointment, it's where we make our diagnosis and also where we start to get to know you as a person and understand your reasons for seeking treatment.

Even if you have already been given a diagnosis of a herniated disk, our specialist will want to run their own tests to confirm the diagnosis, so don't be surprised if you feel like we're repeating things. It's very important that we go through all the steps ourselves.

As part of this, we'll take a detailed medical history and then perform a physical examination. As well as examining your spine, we will probably look at other areas of your body too, such as your legs or arms. This is because spinal problems can affect your whole body.

Common tests to diagnose a herniated disc include a computerised tomography (CT) scan and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. These will be carried out onsite in our imaging department. You may be able to have the scan on the same day as your initial consultation, or we might ask you to come back another day.

Once your consultant is happy with their diagnosis, they will begin building a bespoke treatment plan, which is based around your individual needs. This will then be discussed with you at length before a joint decision is made as to the best treatment for you.

There is no specific preparation before you have surgery on your spine, however your consultant and their team will want you to be as healthy as possible, which is the best way to encourage a good recovery.

We might ask you to do a few things to improve or maintain your general health. We might teach you some gentle exercises to do at home, give you some tips on healthy eating and staying hydrated, and, if you're a smoker, we'll ask that you stop - at least in the runup to your operation.

You might be asked to stop taking certain medications, which can cause risks during surgery. But unless we tell you to, you can carry on with your usual medications.

As you are having general anaesthetic, you won't be able to eat or drink before the operation, usually for around eight hours.

It's a good idea to do some simple prep to make your house ready for you when you get home after surgery, too. Stock up on easy meals, remove potential tripping hazards, and arrange for someone to check in on you regularly for a week or two after your operation.

Surgery to correct a herniated disk is done under general anaesthetic, which means you will be asleep the whole time.

A discectomy typically takes around one hour, however if you are having more than one procedure during your operation, for example a spinal fusion or laminectomy in addition to your discectomy, your surgery could last significantly longer. Spinal fusion, laminectomy and discectomy are the three main procedures used in spinal decompression surgery.

Spinal surgery can either be performed using open surgery, which uses a relatively large incision to 'open up' one section of your back and gain access to your spine or using minimally invasive techniques. Minimally invasive spinal surgery uses a small incision and can offer benefits compared to open surgery, but it won't be appropriate in every situation.

Your surgeon will begin your discectomy by making a small incision over the area of your spine where the herniated disk is located. You can have a herniated disk anywhere along your spinal column, but they are most common in your cervical spine (which supports your head and neck) and your lumbar spine (lower back). You will typically either have a cervical discectomy or a lumbar discectomy. You might also hear the term 'lumbar microdiscectomy', which is where the operation is performed using a minimally invasive technique.

Once your surgeon has gained access to your spine, they will remove the part of the disc that has been pressing on the nerve. This leaves the rest of the disc behind so that it can continue to support your back. If it's not possible to remove only the damaged part, and the whole disc needs to be removed, they may decide to stabilise your vertebrae using spinal fusion.

Your surgeon will now close your wound, usually with dissolvable stitches, and cover it with a dressing.

Everyone's spinal surgery recovery timeline will be different because it depends on various factors personal to you, such as your age and fitness levels, and the reasons for having spinal fusion.

This timeline gives a rough guide to your recovery, but your consultant will be able to give you much more detail and a more accurate picture of what you personally should expect.

Recovering in hospital

When you first wake up after your operation, you will feel groggy as the anaesthetic wears off, and you might feel pain in your back. This is normal and we'll give you painkillers to deal with any post-operative pain. This back pain can take a couple of weeks to disappear, but for many people the pain and numbness caused by the disc herniation is gone immediately.

As soon as possible, we'll get you up and moving around, and you'll have a session with your physiotherapist. They will teach you exercises to gradually rebuild your strength and mobility; you'll continue to follow this programme at home.

As soon as we're comfortable that it's safe for you to be discharged, you'll be able to go home. This is usually within four days, and some people are able to go home after just one night.

Recovering at home

You won't be able to drive yourself home from hospital, so arrange for a loved one to collect you. Alternatively, we can help you book a taxi, though you may need help when you arrive home, so it's always good to have a friend or family member on hand to help.

Spinal surgery will leave you feeling very tired, which might make you feel emotional too. This is normal as your body is using lots of energy to heal itself. Take it easy and be kind to yourself. You will probably need someone to help you for a week or maybe two after you get home.

Your physiotherapist will have given you an exercise plan to follow during your recovery period. Following this will give you the best chance of a full and quick recovery. Start small and gradually build up your activity levels over time. Avoid heavy lifting for six weeks or so and avoid standing or sitting for long periods in one position, because it can cause your back to stiffen.

If your incision was closed using non-dissolvable stitches, these will need to be removed after about 10 days. If this is the case, we'll let you know before you leave hospital.

If you have a low-impact job such as an office job, you can usually return to work after four weeks, though you might not feel ready.

Six to eight weeks after surgery

After six weeks, you should feel well on your way to recovery, though you won't be quite there yet. At this point you can increase your activity levels, so long as you feel able.

Most people will be able to drive again by this point, though the rules differ depending on your insurance company, so be sure to speak to your provider directly.

Three to six months after surgery

After three months, people with manual jobs should be able to return to work. You should be back to exercising and driving as normal and feel like your old self, though some people find a full recovery takes six months.

Most people make a good recovery overall and find that their symptoms ease significantly.

Like any surgery, there are potential risks and complications to spinal fusion. Risks associated with any operation include:

  • Blood clots
  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Respiratory problems
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke

Risks specific to discectomy and spinal decompression include:

  • Symptoms that don't improve as much as hoped
  • Continued pain or numbness
  • Infection in your spine
  • Damage to your spinal cord (rare)

Your consultant will explain all these risks ahead of time, as well as their likelihood in your personal case, so that you are well-informed and reassured before you agree to surgery.

We answer some of the most commonly asked questions about slipped discs and having a discectomy.

What does a slipped disc feel like?

Slipped discs can put pressure on the spinal cord, causing numbness or tingling as well as pain. This might be felt in your arms, hands, legs, feet, back or neck.

You also might experience weakness in these areas, or you might find it hard to bend or straighten your spine.

Can a slipped disc heal itself?

Yes. In most cases, a herniated disc heals on its own, or can be treated at home with things like over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatories, rest, or perhaps gentle exercises recommended by a physiotherapist.

Is lumbar discectomy major surgery?

A lumbar discectomy, or any other type of discectomy, is considered major surgery. You will be under general anaesthetic, there are certain risks attached and there will be a significant recovery period. Still, discectomy operations are typically very successful and can be highly effective at treating symptoms caused by a disc herniation putting pressure on your spinal canal.

How long is recovery from a discectomy?

A typical recovery time after a discectomy is four to six weeks, but everyone is different. Your consultant will give you a more accurate and personalised prediction of how long it will take you to feel back to normal.

How long after a discectomy can I drive?

People typically return to driving between two and six weeks after surgery. You should speak to your consultant as well as your insurance provider about when it's safe for you to drive again. You will need to be able to perform an emergency stop without any pain, and there might be additional criteria too.

When you choose to go private with Circle Health Group, you can expect:

  • Flexible appointment times to fit your schedule
  • The freedom to choose your hospital and your consultant
  • Bespoke, consultant-led treatment plans tailored to your individual needs
  • Private ensuite rooms as standard with tasty and nutritious meals cooked to your dietary requirements
  • Support from the same compassionate clinical team from beginning to end
  • Affordable, fixed-price packages with aftercare included
  • Flexible payment options to help spread the cost of your care

If you want to know more about discectomy or any other type of spine surgery, book your appointment online today or call a member of our team directly on 0141 300 5009.

Content reviewed by Circle in-house team in December 2022. Next review due December 2025.

  1. Slipped disc, NHS
  2. Herniated disk, Healthline
  3. Diskectomy, Mayo Clinic
  4. Lumbar decompression surgery, NHS
  5. Discectomy, Royal College of Surgeons

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