Back Pain

Updated 14 November 2016

What is a discectomy for back pain?

What should you do about back pain? And, what are the available surgical procedures? We've put together a guide to help you determine what could work for you.


Have you had the pain for less than four weeks?

It’s probably a herniated disc pressing against a nerve. Try bed rest (for no longer than three days), painkillers (such as Panado, Brufen or Voltaren), stretches and either physiotherapy or a visit to a chiropractor. If the pain is bad or doesn’t improve in four weeks you must see a doctor.

A scan would then be required to rule out a prolapsed disc or a displaced vertebra pressing on a nerve. After one herniated disc episode there’s a 20 per cent chance of surgery, after a second a 50 per cent chance and after a third it’s 67 per cent.

If you need an operation it will probably be to remove the part of the disc that’s pressing against the nerve. This is known as a discectomy. It’s no longer necessary to remove part of a vertebra to gain access to the disc.


The part of the disc pressing on a nerve is removed.

30-60 years1 hour4 weeks85%R25 000

(This is an edited version of a story that originally appeared in YOU Pulse / Huisgenoot-POLS magazine, Autumn 2008. Buy the latest copy, on newsstands now, for more fascinating stories from the world of health and wellness.)


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Susan qualified as a Physiotherapist in 1990, and completed her master’s degree in Physiotherapy in 2013 at the University of Pretoria. She has a special interest in human biomechanics, as well as the interaction between domestic and work-related ergonomics.

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