Laser discectomy is a minimally invasive, outpatient spine procedure that treats chronic low back pain caused by degenerative disc disease. Unlike traditional discectomies, a laser discectomy does not physically remove damaged disc material from the spinal canal. Instead, it uses high-frequency lasers to burn the nucleus pulposus. Depending on the patient’s condition and severity of symptoms, laser discectomy is often the preferred choice for spinal surgery because of its many perioperative benefits. For instance, laser discectomy is considered a statistically safe, cost-effective treatment technique that usually results in minimal scarring and spinal instability. Additionally, the procedure does not require general anesthesia, resulting in little down time and a shortened rehabilitation. Patients suffering from lumbar disc herniations, lumbar spinal stenosis, and failed back surgery syndrome may be considered candidates for this procedure.
Before the physician can treat the patient’s damaged spinal discs, he or she must first prep the surgical site to avoid contaminating the area and to ensure accurate needle placement. The skin above the affected spinal disc is sterilized before the physician locates the surgical site with an x-ray imaging device called a fluoroscope. Once the area has been identified, the physician will insert a surgical needle into the center of the damaged disc, called the annulus, before introducing the laser. The laser must make it through the annulus into the nucleus pulposus before it can begin administering continuous energy. There are different absorption rates and energy requirements with each laser, and the physician will monitor the appropriate amounts needed throughout the procedure. After the affected spinal disc is treated, the needle is removed and the incision is closed before patients are sent to a separate room to recover.
Shortly after the procedure, patients are sent to a recovery room where their pain, oxygen levels, and blood pressure are monitored closely. Once the patient’s vitals are within a normal range and they are determined to be stable, he or she will be discharged from the treatment facility. Patients should limit any and all physical activity for at least 24 hours after the procedure. Mild prescription pain medications or over-the-counter pain relievers may be provided during the recovery period. Although rare, complications from laser discectomy can arise. Symptoms of fever, increased pain, swelling, redness, and irritation near the surgical site should be reported to an Orthopedic and Wellness physician or nurse right away. Patients may begin to experience a significant reduction in their pain several weeks after the procedure.