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Back pain health centre

Laser disc surgery

BMJ Group Medical Reference


This information is for people who have a slipped disc. It tells you about laser surgery, a treatment used for a slipped disc. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Does it work?

We don't know. Using a laser to treat back pain caused by a slipped disc is one of the newest surgical techniques. There isn't very much research on it yet.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which advises the NHS on new treatments, has carried out a detailed study of laser surgery for disc problems. NICE says that the surgery can be used as a treatment for disc problems, but patients must be told that doctors are still uncertain about how well the treatment works and how safe it is.

All patients who have laser surgery should be given written information about the procedure and its risks. NICE also says that surgeons who perform laser surgery should carefully record the results so that more information becomes available for researchers. [102]

What is it?

This treatment is a kind of surgery that is usually performed by a specialist back surgeon. It is carried out if the outer cover of the disc is stretched, but not if it has burst.

The surgeon puts a special needle into your spine and into the damaged disc. A wire that carries the laser is inserted through the needle. The laser produces very high-energy light that destroys the jelly-like centre of the disc that is damaged and pressing on nerves in your back. The aim is to make the disc into a more normal shape. [102]

If you have laser surgery, you'll have a general anaesthetic to put you to sleep during the operation. But you probably won't have to stay in hospital overnight.

The surgeon might put a flexible telescope (an arthroscope) into your back at the same time that the laser is put in. The telescope helps the surgeon direct the laser to the right place. [103]

Because this operation is done with a laser, there isn't a big cut like the kind you would have with ordinary surgery. This should mean that you get less bleeding, are less likely to get an infection, and will recover more quickly. But we can't be certain that laser surgery has these benefits. There haven't been any good studies to find out. [104]

Whatever operation you have, it's important that your doctor is certain that you're going to be helped by surgery.

  • Your surgeon needs to diagnose a slipped disc. You'll need to have an MRI scan to be certain that there really is damage to a disc.

  • Different discs cause different problems when they're damaged. You and your doctor need to be certain that the problems you're having are being caused by the disc that your scan shows is damaged.

Last Updated: August 15, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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