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Surgery for Radiculopathy

When surgery is necessary for radiculopathy, the Weill Cornell Brain and Spine Center takes the least invasive approach possible. The goal of the surgery is to relieve nerve compression, thus relieving pain and restoring full use and motion of the affected limbs. Our spine surgeons have developed expertise in some of the most advanced minimally invasive surgery techniques for radiculopathy, including:

Arthoplasty: This is a minimally invasive disc replacement surgery, most often performed on the cervical spine. The surgeon will enter surgically through the front of the neck, and, with the aid of a microscope, locate the affected disc and remove it, thus decompressing the nerve. The disc that was removed is then replaced by a synthetic disc substitute, which eventually is able to serve the function of a perfectly healthy disc. This surgery takes 1-1.5 hours, and recovery for patients is often rapid and extremely successful. (Watch video here.)

Posterior Cervical Foraminotomy: Surgery is performed under general anesthesia, while the surgeon removes the portion of the vertebra is compressing the spine and nerve structures. This is an ambulatory (outpatient) surgical procedure with fast recovery times.

Lumbar Microdiscectomy: This minimal-access technique reduces the trauma associated with open surgery and allows patients a shorter recovery time, less post-operative pain and scarring, and a faster return to normal activities. The goal of minimally invasive microdiscectomy is to remove the bulge from the herniated portion of the disc and to relieve pressure on the affected nerve. The surgeon makes a half-inch incision and uses X-ray guidance to insert a circular retractor tube. The surgeon uses a microscope to carefully remove the herniation and free the nerve. The surgeon then removes the retractor and closes the incision, using plastic surgery techniques to reduce scarring. Patients are walking within a few hours after the procedure and will typically have either complete or near complete relief of their pain following the recovery of their surgery. Patients are often discharged the same or the next day and can often return to work in a few days.

At the Weill Cornell Medicine Brain and Spine Center, individuals treated for a radiculopathy have only a brief hospital stay (if one is required at all), and 95 percent of patients will have complete relief of their pain. (See Doctors Who Treat Radiculopathy.)

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Reviewed by Dr. Roger Härtl
Last reviewed/last updated: November 2017
Illustration by Thom Graves, CMI