A microdiscectomy is a procedure used to remove all or part of a herniated disc when damaged discs are causing pain, numbness, and weakness in a patient’s legs and back. Now considered the “gold standard” treatment for removing herniated lumbar disc tissue, a microdiscectomy procedure is an ultra-precise method that requires only a tiny incision – causing minimal disruption to surrounding healthy tissue.
Although the surgery itself is much less invasive than traditional procedures, a long-term microdiscectomy success rate depends on following your doctor’s specific recovery instructions. What follows is a snapshot of life after a microdiscectomy, along with common microdiscectomy recovery mistakes that every postoperative patient should avoid.
Why Would I Need a Discectomy?
A lumbar microdiscectomy may become necessary when a herniated lumber disc affects one side of the body. Although symptoms are varied and can become more severe with movement, they typically include:
- Leg pain and weakness
- Mild to severe pain in the lower back or buttock area
- Feelings of numbness or tingling in the leg or foot
- Difficulty standing or lifting one’s leg
- Sciatica (nerve pain often radiating down the leg)
- Pain affecting the foot or ankle
When you are experiencing any of these warning signs on an ongoing basis, it’s best to schedule an evaluation with a fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon.
What to Expect During a Microdiscectomy Procedure
Microdiscectomy is a minimally invasive outpatient procedure that’s performed under anesthesia. Using small surgical tools, your surgeon will create a tiny incision and move aside the muscles and nerve root. The doctor will then only remove the damaged portion of the disc. Although most patients enjoy noticeable pain relief immediately following the surgery, nerve recovery after a lumbar discectomy is dependent on a variety of factors.
Although a minimally invasive procedure is often considered the best practice for dealing with damaged spinal tissue, no surgery is completely without risk. Thankfully, only minor complications usually result from a lumbar microdiscectomy. To alleviate any concerns you might have, your surgeon will cover any potential complications before the procedure. If you still have apprehensions, they can share specific microdiscectomy recovery stories with you.
Recovery Timeline for Lumbar Microdiscectomy
Depending on the individual, every microdiscectomy recovery proceeds slightly differently. In general, the postoperative period includes the same patient experiences.
Even though most lumbar microdiscectomies are done on an outpatient basis, complications could dictate that you remain in the hospital for up to 72 hours. Within 24 hours of surgery, you should be up and moving around. Although taking multiple short walks daily is encouraged, walking too much immediately after a microdiscectomy procedure can cause a setback to your recovery.
If you find yourself not needing to take pain medication, you should be able to operate a motor vehicle within a week of surgery. While doing so, be sure to avoid any major discomfort that could interfere with the recovery process.
It’s not uncommon for patients to return to work about two weeks post-surgery, although others may need an entire month of healing. For patients with strenuous or physically demanding jobs, waiting three months or longer before resuming physical work activities is the norm.
What Not to Do After Microdiscectomy
For the average patient, there are no permanent restrictions after a microdiscectomy. And although recovery from lumbar microdiscectomy is quicker and less painful than more invasive types of back surgery, you will still need to take some precautions.
Here are some of the mistakes that you will want to avoid while convalescing after a microdiscectomy procedure:
You’re going to be a little sore while initially recovering from surgery, and that is perfectly normal. However, if you have lingering pain for days after your doctor told you it should be subsiding or the pain is getting worse, you should let them know.
By ignoring the pain, you may also be neglecting a serious issue that could cause long-term damage. As an aside, lingering pain is one of the classic signs of re-herniation after a microdiscectomy surgical procedure.
Quitting your physical therapy
After surgery, your surgeon may recommend visiting a physical therapist to improve your recovery quality. Once those visits start, it’s imperative to see your physical therapy all the way through. Stopping halfway because you are feeling better, or quitting early on for other reasons, could result in a relapse of pain that causes you to need additional medical treatment.
Straying away from your medication
If your doctor prescribes medication for you to help with pain or inflammation, take it as prescribed. Prescription non-compliance can cause side effects and other consequences that place your health and wellbeing at risk.
Lifting heavy objects
Lifting heavy objects while recovering, especially those off the floor, can worsen you pain. Avoid lifting heavy objects until you are fully recovered and given the O.K. by your doctor. If you are tempted to do so, ask a friend or family member to do the “heavy-lifting” for you instead.
Staying in bed all-day
Much like any type of back surgery, your body needs to be active after a lumbar microdiscectomy to encourage blood flow and to help strengthen and stretch muscles that support your back. Although it’s important to take it easy and rest, you need to maintain some level of activity at home. If you have any questions, your doctor or physical therapist can provide insight on what you should be doing. On the other hand, be careful not to overdo it.
Neglecting care of the incision site
Although it isn’t very large, the incision site will probably be covered with surgical tape strips and will take about 10 to 14 days to heal. Before going home, someone will instruct you on how to care for the incision site, along with activities to avoid. You will be asked to keep the area clean and to cover it while bathing or showering. You can clean the incision site with a towel, but care must be taken to prevent the surgical tape from coming off.
How The Spine Center Can Help
At The Spine Center, we’re dedicated to providing you with high quality, personalized back and neck care. We strive to offer services to our patients that are efficient and professional, delivered with integrity and honesty in a cohesive, family-like environment. We have a strong commitment to excellence in diagnosis and treatment of spinal injuries and conditions spanning all age groups.
As fellowship-trained physicians with over 50 years of experience treating spinal conditions, we offer patient recommendations for treatment, including conservative care, non-operative treatment, and sophisticated, customized surgical solutions. Our physicians serve as innovators in technology, actively participate in national and international research studies, and are on the forefront of medical knowledge. If you or a loved one suffer from back or neck pain, call The Spine Center today at (847) 628-8147 to schedule a consultation.