Percutaneous Laser Discoplasty

What is Percutaneous Laser Discoplasty?

A minimally invasive technique, percutaneous laser discoplasty involves the use of a tiny needle and laser to decrease the size of a painful herniated disc. It is often an outpatient procedure, which means that a patient usually gets to return home on the same day.

Who Might Need to Have a Percutaneous Laser Discoplasty Procedure?

This technique might be an option if imaging studies and other diagnostic tests have confirmed that you have one or more herniated discs in your spine, and you have been having pain for longer than 6 months. Many back surgeons first require that their patients try more conservative alternatives like exercises and stretches, injections, massage, or physical therapy before moving on to a surgery, even if it is minimally invasive such as percutaneous laser discoplasty.

What Occurs During Surgery?

To begin, the surgeon or an anesthesiologist will give the patient a medicine to help him or her relax as well as localized anesthesia. When the area is numb, the surgeon inserts a cannula (i.e., a small, thin needle) into the disc that has the herniation. In order to ensure that the cannula is directed to the appropriate area, the physician views the procedure with a real-time x-ray.

Once the needle is correctly placed, a tiny laser is gently threaded through it and slightly deeper into the disc nucleus. The surgeon directs laser light in pulses toward the damaged region of the disc. The pulses from the laser gradually produce a sufficient amount of heat to shrink the herniated area on the outer wall of the disc.

After the herniation has shrunk, the laser probe is removed. This is followed by the careful removal of the cannula. The doctor makes sure that the place where the needle was inserted is thoroughly covered by a bandage to reduce infection risk.

Will I Feel Pain During the Surgery?

Mild to moderate pain does occur, but it indicates that the surgeon has found the right place to treat with the heat from the laser. If you experience excruciating pain during a percutaneous laser discoplasty, your surgeon will likely adjust or terminate the procedure and/or additional anesthesia may be administered.

How Long Will It Take to Recover and Return to Normal Activities?

As discussed above, a major benefit of this technique is that it is minimally invasive. Unless complications develop or the patient has other serious medical conditions that warrant a longer monitoring period, most people who undergo the percutaneous laser discoplasty can go home on the day of surgery. The surgeon may advise bed rest for a day as well as regular physical therapy. Bones and muscles remain intact (no cuts are made in the process) so recovery tends to be relatively fast. Additionally, percutaneous laser discoplasty, like other minimally invasive procedures, has the advantage of less scarring than more invasive procedures. Many people who undergo this procedure can return to work and other daily activities in as little as one week, but it may take up to six weeks for other patients to feel fully recovered.

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