Whenever you find yourself facing the possibility of surgery — even a minimally invasive procedure such as a microdiscectomy — you can experience some anxiety. Not only do many patients wonder about what to expect from a microdiscectomy surgery, they also worry about just how long spine operation recovery may take. Surgical procedures sound daunting, and missing work can also seem every bit as unpleasant as physical pain and uncertain recovery outcomes.
If you have a procedure scheduled and are wondering about microdiscectomy surgery recovery times, continue on to find a general recovery timeline, an explanation about what the procedure involves, and cautions and concerns you should remain aware of during your convalescence.
What Happens During the Procedure
When patients experience discomfort from herniated disks or similar conditions that put painful pressure on the spinal nerves, physicians often recommend a microdiscectomy. Unlike more traditional procedures, they are minimally invasive and involve creating incisions of no more than a couple of centimeters. Surgeons then use specialized tools to carefully shift muscles and other kinds of tissue out of the way. Then they carefully remove a small amount of bone overlying the herniated disc, which a 2015 study in the journal Medical Principles and Practice stated had a nearly 80 percent chance of providing good results in alleviating pinched nerve pain.
Most surgical procedures sound serious when dispassionately described, but microdiscectomy recovery periods are often far shorter than more traditional surgeries. However, that doesn’t mean they’re without risk. But as Veritas Health’s Spine-Health.com notes, “While different spine surgeons recommend somewhat different approaches to postoperative care after this type of surgery, several general aspects of recovery can be expected.” We will detail those general aspects below and other broad items regarding surgery recovery.
The First 24 Hours
Even though microdiscectomy recovery times are generally much faster than more invasive spinal surgeries, they’re still major procedures that involve general anesthetic. As such, they require careful oversight prior to medical personnel releasing you to return home. You can expect several specific things to happen.
After you regain consciousness in the recovery room, nursing staff will ensure that your pain is adequately managed. In addition to confirming that you can urinate, they will also get you up and assist in slowly walking around.
Most microdiscectomies don’t require more than an hour to perform and patients usually go home the same day. Depending on your specific situation though, your doctor may want to you remain in the hospital overnight.
Two to 14 Days
Once you have returned home, you should expect to experience many of the side effects common to major surgery: sleepiness, fatigue, and pain. Your discomfort may increase as time wears on as initial post-surgical analgesics leave your body.
Your surgeon will provide you with specific instructions regarding your activity level and how you should manage your pain. You ought to take great care to follow these instructions. They may include avoiding bending at the waist, lifting anything that weighs more than a few pounds, twisting your trunk to the left or the right, or driving a car. Make sure that you move regularly, and your surgeon may suggest that you go for a slow, gentle walk each and every hour. Remaining sedentary may cause stiffness to set in and can increase your discomfort.
Patients are usually able take a shower within 72 hours of your procedure. Do not try to remove any tape or glue that adheres to your skin, because this can tug at and irritate your incision site. If your incision site becomes damp, gently pat it dry with a clean towel, making sure to not wipe firmly on or around the area.
Don’t worry too much if you grow suddenly fatigued or have fluctuations in your energy level. Such variations are common after a major procedure. (See our “Cautions and Concerns” section below for more information about symptoms that may indicate a more serious problem.)
Two to Six Weeks
After two weeks of recovery, you will likely experience a significant improvement in your vigor and an equally large reduction in discomfort. This period marks the time when you can begin to start resuming some of your regular activities — particularly if you’re able to discontinue the use of opioid painkillers. For instance, most physicians suggest to avoid driving until well after the second week of your procedure, but generally speaking, you can get behind the wheel when you don’t feel pain while in the sitting position and you no longer require narcotic pain medication to control your pain. Still, you should exercise caution and remember that flare ups of pain can still occur.
The same holds true for sedentary desk work. If you can sit at a desk without discomfort, you can likely resume your job if it doesn’t involve manual lifting or heavy labor. However, ensure that your employer understands that you will need to stand and move about once or twice an hour throughout your workday. While you may experience greater flexibility in your lower back after your procedure, you will also quickly grow stiff when sitting down for extended periods.
Note that you may have some tenderness around your incision, and it may take longer for it to fully heal. Stay active while avoiding motions that may pull at or strain the area.
Seven to 12 Weeks
Most patients will be able to resume all normal activities during this period, including physical therapy if ordered by your doctor. While few particularly enjoy this part of the recovery process, it’s vitally important for long-term stabilization. Physical therapy will increase your flexibility and muscle strength. Not only does this help support your still-healing spine, it will also improve your posture.
Expect to continue to feel occasional twinges of discomfort past the two-month mark. Ongoing pain will have largely vanished at this point provided that there aren’t any complications.
Will you be able to return to physical activities? That may depend on your specific situation. Patients can typically resume many sports and athletically demanding activities provided they don’t experience pain while doing so. Still, your doctor may urge you to avoid high-impact undertakings and to avoid heavy lifting. Jobs in fields such as construction, groundskeeping, heavy-machinery operation, or patient assistance may require additional convalescence and strengthening before being able to return to work.
Cautions and Concerns
Microdiscectomies are generally very safe surgeries, but you should contact your doctor if you experience any of the following during your recuperation:
- Loss of consciousness
- Pain that doesn’t diminish after taking medication
- Bright blood soaking through the bandaging over your incision site
- A fever greater than 101°F
- Calf pain or swelling in one or both legs
- Discharge that may indicate an infection
- Weakness or tingling
- Loss of bladder control
“Among the different surgical options, undoubtedly, microsurgery is the preferred choice,” a 2018 study published in The Journal of Spine Surgery stated. It added, “Microdiscectomy is considered a very effective and safe operation with a very high success rate.” The Spine Center’s surgeons have a combined 50 years of medical experience, including a thorough understanding and history of performing microdiscectomies. Our goal is your increased health and full functioning. Call us today at (847) 628-8147 so that we can help you live a pain-free life.