Martin Murphy

Lumbar Discectomy for Radiculopathy

A.k.a. sciatica, a compression of the spinal nerves by a combination of a prolapsed disc and overgrown bony spurs within the spinal canal

Why am I in pain?

The most likely cause of your pain is compression of the spinal nerves by a combination of a prolapsed disc and overgrown bony spurs within the spinal canal, which together cause compression of the exiting nerve roots.  


You will drift off to sleep under general anaesthesia in a safe and controlled fashion by an anaesthetist. Whilst you are under anaesthesia you will not feel any pain, nor will you be aware of time passing. Having cleaned your lower back in a sterile fashion, an incision about 1 inch long in your lower back will allow us to push the muscles off of the bone surrounding spinal nerve roots.

The nerve will be exposed through the removal of a small portion of one of the five bones of your lower back, and the disc causing the nerve compression and any bony spurs will also be removed. The wound will then be stitched up, and the anaesthetist will allow you to wake up in a safe manner.

The procedure itself will take approximately 75-90 minutes, but your stay in the operating room environs may be a little longer than this.

What are the potential benefits of this procedure?

The primary benefit of lumbar microdiscectomy is to provide a significantly more rapid relief of radicular ("sciatic nerve") pain, in patients who have failed more conservative treatment options.   

What are the potential risks of this procedure?

The main risks particularly associated this procedure are disc infection, leakage of CSF (spinal fluid) requiring a temporary drain or a second procedure, wound infection, failure of your symptoms to improve, worsening of your symptoms, a recurrence of your symptoms, damage to the spinal nerves with resultant weakness of your leg muscles, or damage to your bladder and bowel continence. A more extensive list of risks is detailed on the consent form.

Will my symptoms be reversed?

The vast majority of patients with leg pain experience a dramatic improvement in their symptoms. Patients with a large component of back pain do not experience the same amount of imrpovement in their back pain.

Are there alternatives to surgery?

Alternatives to lumbar microdiscectomy would include physiotherapy, nerve root injections & epidural injections by a pain management specialist. These are successful in approximately 80% of cases, though 20% of cases will not improve. It is not possible in most cases to predict accurately which patients will respond to these alternative treatments.

How long will be my expected hospital stay be?

You will be admitted to hospital on the morning of surgery, and will be discharged home the following day. Should you be under 50 years of age, and live within 50 miles of the hospital, then you may be discharged home the same day having successfully emptied your bladder. You will need to get somebody to drive you home from the hospital on the day of discharge.

How long will my expected recovery be?

The stitches used to close the wound are dissolvable - you will not need to get them removed. You will receive a telephone call during the first week from our secretary to confirm that all is proceeding as we expected. You will have a stiff sore back for the first 3 weeks after this procedure, but by the time you are reviewed in the clinic this should be significantly better.

Typically an improvement in sciatic pain will be the first benefit you will notice after this procedure, next an improvement in any "pins-and-needles", and lastly an improvement in any numbness (this may take a number of months or may in fact persist permanently). The scar will fade to a dull white mark over the next 12 months.

How long before I return to work?

Desk-work people are advised to refrain from returning to full-employment for 6 weeks. Housewives (and house-husbands!) need a similar period of time to recover also. People with flexible work hours, and those that can complete their duties whilst standing upright may return to work after 3 weeks.

People who return to work too early have been shown to experience a greater degree of long-term back pain.

How long before I return to sports?

Athletes can usually return to full training in approximately 10 weeks, though each case will need to be judged on it's individual merits, taking factors such as the athlete's age, particular athletic activity, and body habitus into account.

When will I need to be seen in the clinic again?

You will be reviewed in the clinic after 6 weeks, and again 3 months later to confirm that your recovery has proceeded satisfactorily, and that further imaging tests or therapies are not required. You will have been given a regime of low-back muscle exercises by the physiotherapy department - it is important that these exercises become as regular a part of your daily routine as brushing your teeth!

Tell me what worrying symptoms I need to look out for whilst I'm recovering

Should you experience any unusual symptoms or signs either prior to your surgery or during your subsequent recovery period you must contact our office line immediately. Should that not be possible, we would advise you to seek immediate medical advice from a registered medical practitioner.

Urinary or faecal incontinence, urinary retention, constipation, footdrop, new-onset numbness or leg weakness, a painful calf or thigh (especially if red or swollen).

Always tell your surgeon if you are taking Aspirin, Disprin, Plavix (Clopidrogel), Warfarin, Dipyridamole (Persantine), Asasantin, Aggrenox or if your medical condition has changed in any respect in the period of time prior to your procedure.

What if I haven’t any health insurance?

How costly is surgery if I don't have any health insurance?

If you haven’t any health insurance cover, then spinal surgery in a private hospital can be expensive. My secretary can call the hospitals and get an all-in price for any procedures that I may recommend.

Whilst spinal surgery is expensive, the cost of not being able to work to full capacity is often more financially debilitating.


  • Suite 16 Blackrock Clinic : Alternate Mondays
  • Suite 15 Beacon Hospital: Alternate Mondays
  • Affidea Clinic in Kilkenny: Tuesday once a month

Can I be seen in the public system?

Yes. I would be very happy to see you and treat you in the public health system also in Tallaght University Hospital or Naas General Hospital. An unfortunate result of decades of inadequate resourcing of both the hospital network in general, and spinal surgery specifically, is an admittedly unacceptable long waiting time both to be seen in the outpatients clinic and to be operated on. All patients are seen and operated on on the basis of clinical need.

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