Percutaneous Discectomy


A percutaneous discectomy is a procedure in which part of a herniated disc is removed, resulting in rapid pain relief. The spinal column is made up of bony vertebrae separated by soft, rubbery structures called discs. When a disc is herniated, it protrudes into the spinal canal and compresses the nerves, causing pain in the back, legs, neck, and arms. In a percutaneous discectomy, a physician removes the part of a herniated disc that is irritating the nerves.

The procedure is performed with local anesthesia in an outpatient setting, usually in less than an hour. The procedure involves the following steps:

  1. Local anesthesia is administered by a board-certified anesthesiologist

  2. The physician uses X-ray guidance to position a small needle

  3. The needle is inserted and a probe is used to remove small portions of the disc

Studies show that percutaneous discectomy effectively reduces pain and the need for medication, as well as improves function in up to 90% of patients. In addition, the rate of complication is lower for percutaneous discectomy versus surgery.


Indications for percutaneous discectomy include the following:

  • Unilateral leg pain greater than back pain

  • Radicular symptoms in a specific dermatomal distribution

  • Positive straight leg raising test or positive bowstring sign, or both

  • Neurologic findings

  • No improvement after 6 weeks of conservative therapy

  • Imaging studies indicating a disc herniation.

  • Well maintained disc height of 60%