If you have back pain that radiates into your arm or leg with associated numbness or weakness, you might be feeling the effects of a compressed nerve root in your spine. It can be caused by the degenerative effects of aging or from some sort of injury or trauma to the back.

Most patients benefit from non-surgical treatments such as medication, physical therapy or injection therapy. But if these treatments fail to relieve the compression or inflammation that's causing your pain or discomfort, you may be a candidate for a microdiscectomy.

A type of minimally invasive spine surgery, microdiscectomy relieves a compressed nerve root in your spine by removing a herniated disc section that is impinging on a nerve.

Symptoms of a spinal compressed nerve root

The spine houses nerve roots that branch off and send signals controlling movement in your back, arms and legs. When a disc herniates and impinges on a nerve, you may experience pain, weakness and numbness. Herniated discs most commonly occur in the cervical (neck) or lumbar (lower back) portions of the spine. Because the thoracic portion of the spine doesn't move or flex, disc herniation is exceptionally rare in that region.

The most common symptoms of a compressed nerve root include:

  • Shooting and/or radiating pain
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Weakness

You may experience symptoms in different parts of the body, depending on the location of your compressed nerve root:

  • Cervical (neck) nerve root compression can affect the neck, upper back, shoulders, arms, and/or hands
  • Lumbar (lower spine) nerve root compression can affect the lower back, buttocks, legs, feet, and/or toes

Foot drop is a fairly common symptom of a compressed nerve root in the lumbar region. Foot drop occurs when the muscles that allow the ankle and toes to extend become weak. Because this makes it hard to properly lift your foot, your foot will drag when you walk. To compensate, you usually exaggerate bending the knee and lifting your foot when walking, resulting in an unusual gait or walking motion.

Treatment of a compressed nerve in the spine

If your HonorHealth doctor has exhausted all non-surgical options to ease your symptoms, microdiscectomy may be the appropriate next step. Using minimally invasive techniques, your surgeon will remove the portion of the herniated disc that's compressing your nerve root.

Microdiscectomy requires only a small incision — about the size of a dime. The surgeon performs the procedure through a minimal access port immediately over the disc instead of a longer midline incision. Most patients are discharged from the hospital the same day.

Recovery from microdiscectomy

To allow your body to heal, formal physical therapy doesn't usually start until about a month after surgery. But you're encouraged to walk daily, increasing your distance each day. When you begin physical therapy, you'll work to increase your range of motion, core strength and overall back health.

You'll likely be able to resume impact sports and/or training exercises about three months after undergoing a microdiscectomy.