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When is surgery done for a slipped disc?

Q: I am suffering from a problem of slipped disc since the last 5 years at L5-S1 level according to MRI done 5 years back. I took a 2 months bed rest and lead a precautionary lifestyle. I was doing well, but the pain has again become acute since the last 6 months accompanied with a burning pain in the left thigh and a shooting pain down the left leg which becomes acute after driving in heavy traffic conditions. I am following a routine of painkillers for the past 4 months. Is operation the only way out, and if so, how risky is the procedure, what worse can happen and what is the time for recuperation and rehabilitation after surgery. After operation, what are the changes of a relapse or a slipped disc at any other level?

A:I suggest you consult your doctor. Surgery is indicated: a) when there is clear evidence of compression of nerve roots by the herniated (slipped) intervertebral disc. b) when simpler methods at relieving symptoms have failed. c) when the compressed nerves show abnormality of function resulting in loss of sensation, weakness of muscles, abnormality of reflexes or difficulty in controlling the passage of urine or faeces. The operation is planned so as to relieve compression of nerves. If there are two or more discs compressing nerves, all are treated at the same time. As with any other operation, surgery for herniated discs carries risks. These must be weighed against the benefits from the operation. Precautions are necessary after operation to ensure that other discs, presumably in the same state of degeneration as the one causing compression, do not bulge backwards and compress other nerves in the future. If these precautions are flouted, there could be trouble from other discs.

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