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L5-S1 microdiscectomy recovery

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,899
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:24 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
Hi everyone - I'm new to the site, but glad I found it. What a wealth of information! OK, so I had a microdiscectomy 4 weeks ago and overall I feel a lot better. The leg pain is 90% gone, with the exception of first thing in the morning and random jolts of pain. Pre-surgery, the pain was in the back of my leg, into the upper calf and sometimes down to my foot. The pain was constant and got worse with movement. The effected leg also was substantially weaker than the other, and also had some numbness and pins and needles.

Since the surgery, the pain has mostly subsided, but the pins and needles has actually gotten worse, and the weakness is still there too. My doc says it can take several weeks for the nerve to recover, but I have also heard of some cases where the symptoms are gone completely after surgery. Is this normal? When should I realistically expect these symptoms to subside? Will they ever?

Thanks for any advice or info in advance. Tony in Chitown


  • And no solid diagosis. You will have to trust the doc or your own body on that one. But, I will tell you this:

    I had a discectomy in September of 2000. The leg pain went away almost immediately. I was good for about another year and then I started having other pains in my low back and legs. I tried a couple series of steroid shots, reduced some stresses and felt better. I had some periods of time, weeks and months, when the pain became unbearable again. I visited my NS at the time who said I should have a laminectomy to make room for the discs. Even though I was having partial paralysis and other problems I put it off stating that I would not have surgery until I just couldn't stand it anymore. I even went on to climb ancient ruins in Central America, go tubing, horseback riding etc.

    Now though, I cannot take it anymore. The disc has ruptured again leaving very little cushion between my vertebrae and causing severe low back pain. I had a discogram on Thursday and it looks like fusion is my next step. Surprisingly (to me) I am feeling at peace about it.

    One Love,

  • Welcome to Spine Health! I had a microdiscectomy 5 weeks ago yesterday at L5, S1, so I can relate to what you are going through. My pain was on the right side, right hip, and right leg. I also had numbness and pain in my right foot. After the surgery, the majority of the side and leg pain was gone, but the numbness in my right foot continued. In the hospital, my NS came to see me and said the numbness would last "a few weeks." He said since the nerve pain/numbness lasted for that long before the surgery, that's how long the nerves would take to get back to normal. However, when I saw him for my post-op visit at three weeks, he said it could take 3 to 4 MONTHS for it to go away because nerves are coming back to life and growing. For what it's worth, I also talked to a guy in the NS office lobby (you know how everyone talks to each other) and he had the same surgery with numbness that lasted 8 months. I think it all depends on the extent of nerve damage before hand and how long it lasted.

    Two weeks after my surgery, I drove for the first time, and the pins and needles in my right foot got worse. I had numbness in my right three toes and a few inches below my toes on the bottom of my foot, and the right side edge of my foot was in pain. I called the NS's nurse and was told the nerves would continue to be numb with some pins and needles and even new pain as the nerves heal/come back to life. This may be what you are experiencing as well. The best thing I can advise to you is to call your NS's office and talk to them about it.

    On the bright side, I had tremendous numbness and tingling in my right pinkie toe before the surgery and after. It was more annoying than anything else. But I have noticed in the past week or so that only one evening do I recall being annoyed by that numbness. It had been a constant annoyance, and now it's almost gone! I still have numbness/tingling in my foot and sometimes my leg, but I consider it a good sign that my little pinkie toe is almost back to normal. It's a small victory, but I'll take it!

    One thing my NS said to do was stand flat-footed and then roll up on my toes and then back down. Do that for a count of 10, and do it three times a day. I try to remember to do that, and I think it's helped my foot/toes. (DISCLAIMER: Be sure to check with your doctor before starting any exercise routine...) I noticed I couldn't walk on my toes (on my right foot) after the surgery, and now I can for a few steps. Another tiny victory, but I'll take it.

    I hope this helps in some way! I would love to hear how you are progressing since we had surgery around the same time. Please don't hesitate to send me a Private Message.

    Best regards,

    PS: To Stephanie: BIG HUGS TO YOU for your upcoming surgery! >:D< >:D<

  • Thank you Stephanie and Haylie for your comments. I tend to think the doctors don't really know when or if the nerves will fully recover. My surgeon told me beforehand that I may just "learn to live" with certain things when it comes to the back and the sciatic nerve. I was in and out of PT over the last year and I was never really able to get my condition under control. It might have something to do with my passion for playing ice hockey though. My ultimate goal is to be able to play again in some capacity, even if it means I need to slow it down and take it on more recreationally.

    At this point, I would be happy to go for a run or work out at the gym, so I'm not getting ahead of myself just yet. I meet with my doc for a 6 week follow up later this month, and I look forward to getting to the next phase of recovery. BTW, I am 40 as well.

    I will definitely keep you posted on my recovery and I hope you don't mind if I have a few questions along the way. Thanks again for the feedback, Tony
  • Welcome to the boards Tony! :D

    I had a disc/lami on l4/l5 & l5/s1 on July 11th, so I'm at 13 weeks out. I'm 38, so I'm very close to your age.

    My right foot was pretty weak for several weeks, up to around the week 8 point, while my right foot (big toe and around that area) is still numb. Just curious if you have been going to PT? If not, then I would definitely ask my Dr. why you've not been recommended to a PT or not? Believe me, the stretches and exercises they show you are wonderful. Yes, I know some people know how to do all the stretches etc... but actually having a person specialized in that area who can pinpoint specific spots, give massages if need, give you electric stimulation, etc.. is wonderful wonderful wonderful :))(

    Feel free to ask any questions you may have, but get to that PT! :))( That is of course if your DR. feels you're to that point.

  • I'm on a very similar time frame to you, having had a discectomy L4/L5 just over a mth ago. Same as you pain wise,basically gone from leg but still got some numbness and the odd zapp of pain down the leg now and then. I just saw my surgeon 2 days ago and he said it will all take some time to settle down. Get into the pool, PT and walk heaps. I had muscle wastage in my left leg, which only exercise & time will fix. Surgeon said take it easy till after Xmas then you should be back running on all 8 cylinders again.
    It sounds quite normal for the nerves to be tender for quite a little after the op.
    I even had a little ride on my MTB yesterday, so there is hope! :)))
  • Tony,

    Welcome to spine friends and, back in 2005 I had an L4S/L5S1
    microdiscectomy with an drop foot also with that radiating pain down from my hip to my foot. For me after surgery i had instant relief the pain down my leg was gone and, I did not have a dropped foot any longer thank god. The only nerve damage i have is that my big toe is numb. I'm very happy how things turned out. My neurosurgeon told me it could take up to over a year for the nerve to regenerate.

    It sounds like you are doing pretty and, I would talk to your doctor and see what he says. It sounds like alot of us who have had this sugery have alot in common. Tony I wish you the best and, I hope your leg is pain free very soon. I still feel that i was very lucky. I went to rehab and, I would suggest to everyone who has had this procedure as well as getting into a walking program to stay active. For me it makes a big difference when i can walk and do my stretches. So good luck Tony and, just take ot one day at a time.

  • Thanks Dan - I did not start post op PT yet, but I was told after my 6 week follow up I can get started again. I did about 3 months (cumulative) PT over the last year, plus I did my own PT in between. I know how important PT is and I look forward to getting to that point again. Thanks everyone for sharing your stories, it really helps.
  • moved to tony's update thread.
  • Hi all,

    I had an L5-S1 microdiscectomy in March of 2008. As everyone on this thread, I was in intense pain for weeks (living on the floor getting by on highly addictive pain killers).

    Once I found the right kind of doctor, I was taken in for surgery in 10 hours. I ended up going to an orthopedic spine specialist, not a NS. All seemed to go well, apart from the nerve damage.

    I was told I would be back to 100% in a few weeks.

    It's been about 10 months now and I am mostly pain free, but have numbness in left two toes (smallest ones) calf, and part of the buttocks. There's no pain, but there is substantial weakness. This has caused my gait to change, leading to painful heel spurs or fat pad atrophy (my feet hurt when I walk).

    I am trying to find a doctor who can help me become a bit more mobile, as I still need to get around to work. Orthodics? Cane? Other?

    I am thinking about going to a PM&R specialist, but wanted to see if anyone had any suggestions for the type of doctor I should see. I am pretty much ok, apart of only being able to walk at the beach or with Keen sandles (don't work well in a business setting).

    Thanks in advance and good luck to all.

  • Hi everyone,

    I'm 20 years and had an L5-S1 microdiscectomy 6 weeks ago. The pain is practically gone, but the nerve is still causing lots of trouble. Keeping my leg straight, I can't lift it more than 2 feet off the ground without feeling the nerve pain. I've been doing Karate for fifteen years, and prior to this back problem I could keep that leg straight and lift my foot next to my face. Getting that flexibility back is my goal right now (and not re-injuring).

    The doctor who did the surgery was an orthopedic surgeon and he said after six weeks I'd be completely back to doing everything again...maybe he's a little too optimistic, or he exaggerated to sell the surgery...I don't really know. I'm definitely not at that point.

    Does anyone have tips for regaining flexibility or speeding up nerve regeneration? So far nothing I've done in physical therapy has worked.

    I wish you all the best with recovery!



  • you really can't speed up the nerve healing. it takes the time it takes. my nerve issues didn't go away after my microd may 1 2008, and my nerve issues have finally subsided, january 2009, 4 months out of a 360 fusion.

    as for flexibility, there is no limiting since you had a microd and not a fusion.... so it's just a matter of time. muscle memory will work in your favor, and if you stick with it, eventually it will be back to the way it was. probably not until the nerve pain goes away, but 6 weeks is kind of quick for nerve pain to heal. i'd say just work on strength training and flexibility in physical therapy and before ya know it you'll feel even better than before! it takes time in p.t.....

    good luck with your recovery!
  • Hi Jguerriere, I new here and I haven't yet had any back surgery. I just keep praying God will somehow heal me...as I'm very sensitive to any pain meds...so therefore, as of now...I don't take any.

    I can't sit for longer than 10 minutes. Standing is no longer than 5 - 10 minutes in one place. I can walk...but do it slowly as not to agravate anything.

    I suffer with sciatica. I have DDD . MRI: Mild degenerative discogenic disease and mild to moderate multilevel facet arthropathy of the lumbar spine. there is no focal disc protrusion, spinal canal stenosis or neural foraminal stenosis. There is a mild disc bulge-L4-L5. There is a ligamentous hypertrophy and is a minimal bilateral facet arthropathy.-L5-S1. There is a mild disc bulge at L5-S1. 65 yrs old. Scared to death of getting worse and having any surgery for fear of post op pain as I've read in many cases here on this web site. I know everyone's situation is different and their post op's will also be different.

    I was just wondering what was your MRI and how did you do right after surgery and then home. You state it's been 10 months now.

    I was wondering why you chose a orthopedic rather than a neuro surgeon?

    Sincerely, cleverlee
  • your mri results are AWESOME for being 65. seriously. most people have a LOT more degeneration, bulges, arthritis, etc... at that age.

    that is really, really, really a good mri result. i don't even wanna know what mine will say at 65. mine are naturally terrible, and i'm only 22. lol.

    you should get an opinion from a neuro AND an ortho. can't hurt, right?
  • Good luck there Richard,

    I had a L5-S1 Micro discectomy and laminectomy 15 weeks ago and was going well with recovery up until this week. I have been doing Taekwondo for 17 yrs, so I understand your position in wanting to return to Karate. Best advice I can give you is dont rush anything, my Dr's have told me it will be at least 6 months before im able to return to light training, if my condition doesn't degenerate any further. Your Dr seems way too optimistic about your return to training. Keep in mind im not much older then you, at 27.

    Take it easy dude, hope all goes well for you.


  • Hello evryone. I am 24 years old guy who had been doing all kind of sports throughout his life. I had a herniated disc at L5/s1 level. I felt it while playing soccer. I was advised to udnergo a microdiscectomy which i did and its been 5 weeks now...i am pretty much pain free now and the pain that always radiated in my right leg is gone alongwith the numbness.

    What i want to ask is ,I had been a chronic masterbater. Yes ! I sue to do it regularly before the surgery thing ....i want to know does it has anything to do with weakning of back and causing the disc to slip while i was playing soccer. Plus, would it be wise idea to continue with it after recovery ?

    I know its a weird question but i hope you people could answer.

  • Hi everybody. I had a L5-S1 Microdiscectomy ten days ago and having most of the symptoms mentioned in this thread. Left leg, numbness (begun three days before the surgery) and still feeling it with some pain during the nights. Today was my second post surgery appointment with the NS and told me it is normal since the "hernia" was really big and the nerve had an intense compression. This post is just to let you know I am recovering and since the oldest post seems to be several years ago, maybe one of you want to update your actual condition. ¿Did you recover fully? ¿What kind of changes in lifestyle?, etc.
  • Welcome to the forums. Im not gonna get into a long post here but if you are looking for info feel free to DM and Ill tell you waht I can about my recovery. If you search microdiscectomy you should find many newer posts including my own describing microD recovery. I dont think I have seen posts from any of these people except maybe Lo. It seems most people who recover have no need to come back to the forums.

    But if any of you in this thread do come around I would also find 1, 2, and 3 year updates very helpful as well!!
    L5S1 REMOVED herniation. Years of pain & compression. Microdiscectomy complete!! Trying to be super smart & safe with recovery!
  • PaulPPaul Posts: 730
    edited 02/26/2013 - 11:22 AM
    None of those folks are here anymore I don't think.

    In my case, I can tell you I was in real bad pain for a good month after my L5-S1 micro-d. I swore it was a failed surgery and that I was doomed. Well, I was wrong. It just took a little bit of time and some meds to resolve.

    I've had a few setbacks (my own fault) but I'm doing great. In the interest of full disclosure, I have indeed modified my life. No more heavy lifting, no more running, no more sports, no more risky movements. I have managed to find happiness. I ride my bike for about 30 or 45 minutes every day. I manage.

    After my L4-L5 micro-d, it took a good 6 months for my calf/leg issues to fully resolve. There was some numbness and odd tingling sensations. The calf muscle did atrophy (got smaller) but I don't notice it. It's up to me to build it back up to match the other one. I may try to do that eventually.

    All in all, I think you too can fully recover and be happy. But you have to acknowledge that you are now and always will be a back patient. You gotta be observant of your limitations now or pay the consequences.

    Are you in post-op physical therapy? My surgeons are big advocates of aquatic therapy. (search engine Lynda Huey aquatic therapy for an example)
    On the sunny and mild Central Coast of California

    L4-L5 endoscopic transforaminal microdiscectomy June, 2007
    L5-S1 endoscopic transforaminal microdiscectomy May, 2008
  • steven61ssteven61 Posts: 37
    edited 02/28/2013 - 5:13 AM
    Hi folks: It would be great for us to get a micro-discectomy discussion going again, and to also hear from people who had it 1,2, 3 years ago. I had mine at L5-S1 exactly one month ago after 25 years of dealing with bulging discs there and at L4-L5. In those years, I tended to have good years and bad months, but the last 6 months were miserable and in Nov. it finally herniated. Interestingly, when I first hurt my back in 1987 I had a doctor tell me that I might never run again. Well, after a difficult initial two years, I got in another a decade of basketball and then a decade of tennis. I am now struggling with the decision to give up tennis or not. Paul: your comment about modifying your life and still finding happiness is wonderful. It is also helpful to hear over and over again how long it can take to heal. Even though I am one month post-op, I still can't sit for 10 min without the sciatica getting uncomfortable. My back pain and walking are much better than before the surgery, and I amup to 3 walks for about 2.5 hours per day. But the leg pain and sitting are not that much different. So I have to be try to be patient, continue to hope, and find a way to stay positive. Great to hear from all of you, Steven
    Microdiscectomy L5-S1; Jan. 28, 2013
  • Hi there. Thought that I would chip in. My son (Nick) is 11 weeks post op for an L5/S1 MD - sorry can't cover 1/2/3 years post op yet!

    A couple of thoughts, especially re Steven's comments.....

    1. Sitting has been an on-going problem for Nick but we are, gradually getting there. Patience and practice needed. Nick can now sit through a double lesson at school, about 1 and a half hours, but has only been able to manage that this week. Prior to this week we had weeks and weeks of trying and not succeeding (it was triggering sciatic pain plus upper back pain).

    2. Sciatic pain. Up until this week Nick was routinely commenting on (and worrying about) sciatic pain in his buttocks, thigh and calf. This week we suddenly realised that it had gone, except when stretching his hamstrings to max. Our view was that having had a compressed nerve for 15 months it takes a long time for the nerve to heal.

    3. Nick had a flare-up at 4 weeks and I know two other people who had flare-ups at that stage. So be careful! I suspect that at about 1 month one is over the worst of the surgery pain and beginning to feel that you should be getting better. So you can over-do it. Nick was actually better post flare-up than pre-flare so it wasn't all bad news!

    4. Be patient. Last week we were close to desperation, this week we can finally see improvements. It has tested my patience beyond belief. I am amazed that Nick has coped as he is only 15 years old.

    Finally, I have kept a blog of his progress where you can see how he has fared each week - www.nickmicrodiscectomy.blogspot.co.uk. I refer back to it regularly as it helps me to realise that Nick really is progressing even though it may not seem like it at times.

    And Steven - Nick is a tennis player and he has every intention of resuming his tennis. In fact, he has just been allowed back on court for short periods. He is, however, under the guidance of a team of tennis specific physio specialists which undoubtedly helps.

    Hope this helps!

  • Thanks a lot Rosey for sharing Nick's story. It is wonderful that Nick is making his way back on to the tennis court. Although, to be fair, he is 15 and I am 51. My doctor has said that we can talk about tennis after 6-8 months. That is fine with me. I want to give it plenty of time to scar over the hole in the disc.
    I will take a look at your blog. Your comments about flare-ups and setbacks at around one month make sense. We are starting to test things and push the limits a bit more quickly, and it is natural to over do it. I have always felt that as long as I am back to where I was after some ice, or by the next day, no serious harm was done. Last weekend I really over did it, as I tried to go watch my daughter's soccer game and ended up staying to watch two games (semis and finals). They won the tournament, but I really paid the price, even though I basically walked or lay down on the grass the entire time. So, I pulled back, and am trying to just push a little farther each week. Patience is a virtue. Best of luck to you nad Nick, Steven
    Microdiscectomy L5-S1; Jan. 28, 2013
  • Just read through your wonderful blog. I wish I could be so organized! A couple of things really struck me: 1) that Nick started some (gentle) physical therapy and exercises immediately. Interesting. I wanted to start after about week 3, but my surgeon wanted me to only walk during the first month. 2) Interesting to hear about his challenges going back to school in month two. This sounds so familiar for me and to what I have seen other people write. Many of us fear going back to work as we are just managing to get by at home in a very controlled environment, and with lots of time horizontal. The slower the better. Finally, 3) beautiful clay courts!
    Microdiscectomy L5-S1; Jan. 28, 2013
  • I had a microdiskectomy (plus other bits and pieces cut out) just 10 hours ago here in Bangkok. So far, all very encouraging. No pain in leg and , interestingly, complete remission of the debilitating lower back pain that was preventing me walk more than 20 paces or so. I am waiting to see the doctor and then perhaps I can find out iwhether my pain free back is from the operation or whether I'm being fed some very powerful painkiller. If it's a painkiller I'll try and find out what it is. I am not in any discomfort whatsoever and am walking around fine , albeit taking it very easy. The bottom line: microdiskectomy is a lot less scary than I thought and seems potentially able to give immediate relief. I'll give an update tomorrow. So far so good.
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