A microdiscectomy is generally considered a minimally invasive surgery, as there is minimal disruption of the tissues and structures in the lower back.

During a lumbar microdiscectomy, the herniated portion of the lumbar disc is removed. See Surgery for Lumbar Herniated Disc

A variation of the microdiscectomy surgery is an endoscopic microdiscectomy.

Traditional Microdiscectomy Surgery Step-By-Step

A microdiscectomy is performed through the back, so the patient lies face down on the operating table for the surgery. General anesthesia is used, and the procedure usually takes about one to two hours.


These steps are typical:

  • A microdiscectomy is performed through a 1 to 1½-inch incision in the midline of the low back.
  • First, the back muscles (erector spinae) are lifted off the bony arch (lamina) of the spine and moved to the side. Since these back muscles run vertically, they are held to the side with a retractor during the surgery; they do not need to be cut.

    See Back Muscles and Low Back Pain

  • The surgeon is then able to enter the spine by removing a membrane over the nerve roots (ligamentum flavum).
  • Operating glasses (loupes) or an operating microscope allow the surgeon to clearly visualize the nerve root.

    See Spinal Cord and Spinal Nerve Roots

  • In some cases, a small portion of the inside facet joint is removed both to facilitate access to the nerve root and to relieve any pressure or pinching on the nerve.
  • The surgeon may make a small opening in the bony lamina (called a laminotomy) if needed to access the operative site.

    See Outpatient Lumbar Laminectomy or Laminotomy

  • The nerve root is gently moved to the side.
  • The surgeon uses small instruments to go under the nerve root and remove the fragments of disc material that have extruded out of the disc.
  • The muscles are moved back into place.
  • The surgical incision is closed and steri-strips are placed over the incision to help hold the skin in place to heal.

See Orthopedic Surgeon vs. Neurosurgeon for Spine Surgery

In a microdiscectomy, only the small portion of the disc that has herniated—or leaked out of the disc—is removed; the majority of the disc is left as is.

See What's a Herniated Disc, Pinched Nerve, Bulging Disc...?

Importantly, since almost all the joints, ligaments and muscles are left intact, a microdiscectomy does not change the mechanical structure of the patient's lower spine (lumbar spine).

See Lumbar Spine Anatomy and Pain


After the Surgery

Patients typically stay in the surgery center or hospital for a few hours after surgery before being released to return home. Depending on the patient’s condition, one overnight stay in the hospital may be recommended.

See Pain Management After Microdiscectomy Surgery

Following the operation, patients may return to a relatively normal level of activities quickly. Patients are typically encouraged to walk within a few hours of the surgery.

See Return to Exercise After Microdiscectomy Surgery

The surgeon will provide home care instructions, typically including medications, activity restrictions, a follow-up care appointment, and other information.

See Postoperative Care for Lumbar Microdiscectomy Surgery

Dr. Eric Elowitz is a neurosurgeon specializing in minimally invasive spine surgery. He has more than 20 years of experience and practices at Weill Cornell Medicine Center for Comprehensive Spine Care.