The procedure, called a percutaneous discectomy, enables physicians to go through the skin with a needle, guided by fluoroscopy or X-ray, to get into the disc and remove part of the herniated disc material, explained Dr. Benoy Benny, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation and director of the spine, sports and pain program at BCM.
A disc herniation occurs in the spine when there is a tear in the outer ring of a disc and the soft, central portion bulges out. When the herniation is six millimeters or less, it is considered to be a small disc herniation.
Epidural steroid injections may provide temporary relief through a procedure in which a physician injects steroids into the outermost part of the spinal canal.
“For many people, this type of pain resolves on its own within two to three months as the disc herniation resolves. But in the meantime with the increase of pain many patients can try and get relief from epidural steroid injections. If the injections only provide temporary relief, we can now use this new procedure,” said Benny, an interventional spine expert.
Surgery is probably not the best option for such small herniations. Small disc herniations are not as easy to remove with surgery and results have not been as good as surgery for large disc herniations, he said.
Percutaneous discectomy is an outpatient procedure that lasts 20 to 30 minutes and has a faster recovery time and less discomfort than the open surgical procedure.
Benny suggests consulting with an interventional spine expert for this procedure.