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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 serves to replicate the function of a perfectly healthy disc. This surgery takes 1-1.5 hours, and patients usually stay in the hospital for one night before going home. Recovery is typically rapid and extremely successful. (Watch video here.)

Posterior Cervical Foraminotomy: This is a minimally invasive surgery in which the surgeon shaves down overgrown bone in the back of the neck and creates space for the compressed spine and nerves. This is an ambulatory (outpatient) surgical procedure with fast recovery times.

Lumbar Microdiscectomy: This is a minimally invasive surgery in which the surgeon removes a herniated disc fragment that is compressing a nerve in the lumbar spine. Using a surgical microscope and microsurgical techniques the neurosurgeon removes the disc herniation through a half-inch incision. The goal is to preserve as much normal tissue as possible and minimize trauma to normal tissues. This means patients experience a shorter recovery time, faster return to normal activities and face a lower risk of needing surgery in the future. Patients are walking within a few hours after the procedure and will typically have either complete or near complete relief of their pain immediately following the 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: December 2020
Illustration by Thom Graves, CMI