Medical Q&As

Chemonucleolysis - what is it?

My husband has a disc problem and has been offered a choice between chemonucleolysis or open back surgery. I would like to know more about chemonucleolysis and how successful it is.

The technique of chemonucleolysis was first reported in the medical literature in 1963. It is a technique for decompressing an intervertebral disc without having to perform open surgery on the spine. The patient is put asleep for the procedure and the protruding disc is injected with a needle that is passed through the patientís back. A special drug called chymopapain is administered through the needle into the disc. The drug reduces the molecular size and viscosity of the disc contents thereby resulting in chemical decompression of the disc. Some surveys have reported complete relief of pain following the procedure in up to 80% of cases. Some patients experience some degree of muscle spasm in the back for the first 48 hours after the procedure but this subsides thereafter. I am not familiar with the literature regarding the long-term effects of treatment and suggest you discuss this question with your consultant.