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Spine Treatments

Minimally Invasive Discectomy

Minimally invasive discectomy is a surgical procedure designed to relieve pressure on spinal nerves caused by herniated discs, also known as slipped or ruptured discs. This procedure is a less invasive option compared to traditional open spinal surgery and has been increasingly utilized due to its benefits, including minimal surgical trauma, less pain, reduced recovery time, and enhanced surgical outcomes.

A herniated disc is a common cause of back pain. Often, patients recall an inciting event that caused their back pain. Herniated disc pain is typically burning and stinging and may radiate into the lower leg. In severe cases, there may be weakness or sensation changes. When symptoms impact quality of life, surgery may be indicated. Sometimes, there may be no symptoms, and no action is needed.

A spinal disc is made of an inner jelly-like substance covered by a tough outer shell that keeps the disc from drying out and retaining its shock-absorbing function. The disc can dry out and weaken with age and injury, causing the jelly-like center to bulge and compress the nerve roots (large nerves that leave the spinal cord to innervate the extremities, arms, and legs). A bulging or herniated disc can compress nerve roots and sometimes compress the spinal cord, causing pain, tingling, weakness, and dysfunction.

A discectomy is indicated when the patient is experiencing severe pain, numbness, and weakness that interferes with daily activities and quality of life; when conservative treatments like physical therapy, medication, and injections have failed to alleviate symptoms, and there is MRI or CT scan evidence of nerve damage or severe nerve compression caused by a herniated disc. Emergency surgery is indicated for patients with lumbar disc herniation who have foot drop or profound neurological compromise, cauda equina syndrome, or loss of bowel and bladder control.

A minimally invasive discectomy is performed using specialized instruments and techniques that allow Dr. Ball to access the spine through a small incision. Once the disc is accessed, he uses dilators to create a tunnel to the spine, avoiding the need to cut through muscle and soft tissues. Using a microscope or endoscope for visualization, the portion of the disc herniated and compressing a nerve is removed.

Minimally invasive discectomy is often performed as an outpatient procedure, allowing patients to return home the same day. Compared to traditional open surgery, the minimally invasive approach promotes faster recovery, less postoperative pain, and a quicker return to normal activities.

Studies have shown that pain relief and functional improvement outcomes are comparable to open surgery, with the added benefits of reduced surgical risks and complications. Most patients can resume light activities within a few days and fully recover within a few weeks.

Minimally invasive discectomy is a valuable surgical option for treating herniated discs, especially in patients who have not responded to non-surgical treatments. It combines the efficacy of traditional surgery with reduced trauma to the soft tissues and muscles, promoting a faster and less painful recovery process.

Contact Dr. Hieu Ball to schedule a consultation at his San Ramon. He offers a full range of treatments for neck pain. Dr. Ball offers state-of-the-art patient-centered care for patients with neck, mid-back, and low-back problems. He received his orthopedic and spine surgery residency and fellowship training at Harvard Medical School and UCLA-affiliated institutions. Education included training at Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Boston Children’s Hospital. Dr. Ball is a double fellowship-trained orthopedic spine surgeon. He received a pediatric spine fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital and a second adult spine fellowship at UCLA. Dr. Ball offers minimally invasive spine care, and many procedures often may be performed on an outpatient basis in an ambulatory surgical center setting.


  • Dydyk AM, Ngnitewe Massa R, Mesfin FB. Disc Herniation. [Updated 2023 Jan 16]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-.¬†Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441822/
  • Rasouli MR, Rahimi-Movaghar V, Shokraneh F, Moradi-Lakeh M, Chou R. Minimally invasive discectomy versus microdiscectomy/open discectomy for symptomatic lumbar disc herniation. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 Sep 4;2014(9):CD010328. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD010328.pub2. PMID: 25184502; PMCID: PMC10961733.
At a Glance

Dr. Hieu Ball

  • Double fellowship-trained orthopedic
  • Orthopedic surgery residency at Harvard Medical School
  • Over 20 years of spine surgery experience
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