The ‘disc’ is a rubbery cushion located between the spinal bones (vertebrae). When a fragment of the soft disc center escapes through a defect in its tough outer layer this is described as a ‘prolapsed’ or ‘herniated’ disc. The defect typically results from an injury but the ‘prolapse’ may occur many days after the inciting event. If the ‘prolapsed disc’ causes compression or irritation of nearby spinal nerves the typical result is sudden onset of severe pain, numbness, tingling and weakness in varying parts of the leg and foot. Low back and buttock pain are also frequently experienced. When the prolapse occurs in the lower lumbar spine it affects the individual nerves that combine to create the sciatic nerve, hence the term ‘sciatica’. However a disc prolaspe can also occur in other parts of the spine including the neck (‘cervical’).

In the vast majority of cases the body is able to ‘reabsorb’ the disc and as the nerves recover the symptoms resolve. In 70-80% of cases this occurs over a 1-2 month period. However if the symptoms persist or are debilitating a surgical procedure to remove the portion of disc causing physical pressure on the nerve is frequently effective. The procedure usually takes 1 hour and involves an overnight stay in hospital.

Mr Rowan Schouten performs surgery on behalf of many health insurance companies and is an affiliated provider for Southern Cross Health Society.