Discectomy describes a class of operations used to remove part of an intervertebral disc or the entire intervertebral disc. Partial discectomies are often done to relieve radiculopathy, which is caused by a weakened and herniated disc. Total discectomies, which remove the entire intervertebral disc, are usually done in concert with another procedure, such as artificial disc replacement or fusion, and they are usually the result of degenerative disc disease, which causes lower back pain for lumbar cases and neck, shoulder and head pain in cervical cases. In either case the intervertebral disc is considerably compromised.
Microdiscectomy is a term used to describe a partial discectomy where the surgeon uses magnifying optics during the procedure. Microdiscectomies are always performed posteriorly (from the back). Often a flavectomy and laminotomy are performed during this procedure to allow the surgeon access to affected area.
Fusions and artificial disc replacement require a total discectomy to make room for the inserted bone in the fusion and the prosthetic in the artificial disc replacement. Total discectomies are done anteriorly (from the front).