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Tubular microdiscectomy: techniques, complication avoidance, and review of the literature

Aaron J. Clark, Michael M. Safaee, Nickalus R. Khan, Matthew T. Brown, and Kevin T. Foley


Microendoscopic discectomy is a minimally invasive surgery technique that was initially described in 1997. It allows surgeons to work with 2 hands through a small-diameter, operating table–mounted tubular retractor, and to apply standard microsurgical techniques in which a small skin incision and minimal muscle dissection are used. Whether the surgeon chooses to use an endoscope or a microscope for visualization, the technique uses the same type of retractor and is thus called tubular microdiscectomy. The goal in this study was to review the current literature, examine the level of evidence supporting tubular microdiscectomy, and describe surgical techniques for complication avoidance.


The authors performed a systematic PubMed review using the terms “microdiscectomy trial,” “tubular and open microdiscectomy,” “microendoscopic open discectomy,” and “minimally invasive open microdiscectomy OR microdiskectomy.” Of 317 references, 10 manuscripts were included for analysis based on study design, relevance, and appropriate comparison of open to tubular discectomy.


Similar and very favorable clinical outcomes can be expected from tubular and standard microdiscectomy. Studies have demonstrated equivalent operating times for both procedures, with lower blood loss and shorter hospital stays associated with tubular microdiscectomy. Furthermore, postoperative analgesic usage has been shown to be significantly lower after tubular microdiscectomy. Overall rates of complications are no different for tubular and standard microdiscectomy.


Prospective randomized trials have been used to evaluate outcomes of common minimally invasive lumbar spine procedures. For lumbar discectomy, Level I evidence supports equivalently good outcomes for tubular microdiscectomy compared with standard microdiscectomy. Likewise, Level I data indicate similar safety profiles and may indicate lower blood loss for tubular microdiscectomy. Future studies should examine the comparative value of these procedures.