Diagnosis and microsurgical approach to far-lateral disc herniation in the lumbar spine

J Neurosurg. 1990 Mar;72(3):378-82. doi: 10.3171/jns.1990.72.3.0378.


Lumbar-disc herniations that occur beneath or far lateral to the intervertebral facet joint are increasingly recognized as a cause of spinal nerve root compression syndromes at the upper lumbar levels. Failure to diagnose and precisely localize these herniations can lead to unsuccessful surgical exploration or exploration of the incorrect interspace. If these herniations are diagnosed, they often cannot be adequately exposed through the typical midline hemilaminectomy approach. Many authors have advocated a partial or complete unilateral facetectomy to expose these herniations, which can lead to vertebral instability or contribute to continued postoperative back pain. The authors present a series of 25 patients who were diagnosed as having far lateral lumbar disc herniations and underwent paramedian microsurgical lumbar-disc excision. Twelve of these were at the L4-5 level, six at the L5-S1 level, and seven at the L3-4 level. In these cases, myelography is uniformly normal and high-quality magnetic resonance images may not be helpful. High-resolution computerized tomography (CT) appears to be the best study, but even this may be negative unless enhanced by performing CT-discography. Discography with enhanced CT is ideally suited to precisely diagnose and localize these far-lateral herniations. The paramedian muscle splitting microsurgical approach was found to be the most direct and favorable anatomical route to herniations lateral to the neural foramen. With this approach, there is no facet destruction and postoperative pain is minimal. Patients were typically discharged on the 3rd or 4th postoperative day. The clinical and radiographic characteristics of far-lateral lumbar-disc herniations are reviewed and the paramedian microsurgical approach is discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / diagnosis*
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / diagnostic imaging
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / surgery
  • Lumbar Vertebrae
  • Medical Illustration
  • Microsurgery / methods
  • Middle Aged
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed