✓ Percutaneous endoscopic discectomy is a new technique for removing “contained” lumbar disc herniations (those in which the outer border of the anulus fibrosus is intact) and small “noncontained” lumbar disc herniations (those at the level of the disc space and occupying less than one-third of the sagittal diameter of the spinal canal) through a posterolateral approach with the aid of specially developed instruments. The technique combines rigid straight, angled, and flexible forceps with automated high-power suction shaver and cutter systems. Access can thus be gained to the dorsal parts of the intervertebral space where the disc herniation is located. Percutaneous endoscopic discectomy is monitored using an endoscope angled to 70° coupled with a television and video unit and is performed with the patient under local anesthesia and an anesthesiologist available if needed. Its indication is restricted to discogenic root compression with a minor neurological deficit.
Two groups of patients with contained or small noncontained disc herniations were treated by either percutaneous endoscopic discectomy (20 cases) or microdiscectomy (20 cases). Both groups were investigated in a prospective randomized study in order to compare the efficacy of the two methods. The disc herniations were located at L2–3 (one patient), L3–4 (two patients), or L4–5 (37 patients). There were no significant differences between the two groups concerning age and sex distribution, preoperative evolution of complaints, prior conservative therapy, patient's occupation, preoperative disability, and clinical symptomatology. Two years after percutaneous endoscopic discectomy, sciatica had disappeared in 80% (16 of 20 patients), low-back pain in 47% (nine of 19 patients), sensory deficits in 92.3% (12 of 13 patients), and motor deficits in the one patient affected. Two years after microdiscectomy, sciatica had disappeared in 65% (13 of 20 patients), low-back pain in 25% (five of 20 patients), sensory deficits in 68.8% (11 of 16 patients), and motor deficits in all patients so affected. Only 72.2% of the patients in the microdiscectomy group had returned to their previous occupation versus 95% in the percutaneous endoscopic discectomy group. Percutaneous endoscopic discectomy appears to offer an alternative to microdiscectomy for patients with “contained” and small subligamentous lumbar disc herniations.