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Recovery after Micro Discectomy

Neil KNNeil K Posts: 6
I have been reading a number of the forums here for many months on the topics of Sciatica and Microdiscectomy and have found them very useful.


I am a 35 year old male from England and up until December 2008 had never had any problems with my back, actually I was a regular gym goer and considered myself fit and active. Then on Dec 11th 2008 I felt my left leg start to cramp up and within 24 hours I felt pain shoot down my left leg from my glute to my calf, and this pain was like nothing I have ever felt before. I had no idea what is was, and for the next 3 weeks couldn’t get out of bed.

During this time the strength in my glute, hamstring and calf totally disappeared.

Then I got an MRI which showed a large disc (L5 S1) prolapse, I was advised to get a Microdiscectomy ASAP which I did within 48 hours. It has now been 8 months since my operation and although the strength is returning slowly its still only about 50% of what it was, I still have numbness in a couple of my toes, and my back still hurts for the first hour most mornings. I am stretching everyday, and exercise my core 3 times a week like I was advised to, however I feel I should have made a full recovery by now.

If anyone has gone through this process and made a 100% recovery, could you let me know if I’m on track or is my recovery slower than most?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.



  • As you have seen from reading on the forum, there really isn't a "norm" when it comes to healing. Part of the reason for this is because each patient has a slightly different occurrence when the disc ruptures, and there are variations in what else in the spine is affected.

    Often athletic individuals think they are in great shape and are surprised that they end up with back problems...but often these individuals end up with muscle imbalances that can lead to back problems.

    Are you better than you were prior to surgery? If you feel you are making progress, no matter how slowly, you are on the road to recovery.

    My husband ruptured a lower lumbar disc about 17 years ago, the day before Christmas. He elected not to have surgery at the time, and was able to heal it using conservative measures. To this day he does his "back" exercises every morning upon waking. He literally never misses doing his back exercises. He has not had further problems...and he still runs, although he did give up playing ice hockey.

    Try to be patient. Keep up with your exercises. You might want to add a couple strength-building exercises to your daily stretching...and be sure to add in other activities slowly as your strength progresses. Try not to get impatient...sometimes when there is nerve damage it can take a long time for recovery to occur.

    You might want to read through the exercise section of this site: http://www.spine-health.com/wellness/exercise/overview-sciatica-exercises Figure # 16 is particularly helpful -- be sure to keep your back square and flat like a tabletop and do not open the hips.

    Good luck and try not to be in a hurry. It may take awhile to recover all your strength, but you'll get there eventually.
  • Many thanks for your response, I suppose its just hard sometimes to gauge your own recovery without someone to compare it to.

    And compared to what I was like just before the Discectomy there is no comparison.

  • I still have foot drop but other then that i feel there is still a spot some where that is week and i have to hold my abs in to not limp. But when i went in for surgery i could barely walk. The surgeon said i should not of been able to walk hmmmmm. Any wayMy doc said nerves take a long time to heal they only grow 1/8 inch a week or some thing like that. I still feel myself climbing the ladder of healing and my surgery was 11-13-08. I do mean ladder or long stair case cause it seems like ill take a step a week then one a month but i do notice progreess so im not to worried. Since i 6-3 and was 220 i went on a diet fish and low fat foods and feel better physically. I have lost 12-13 pounds. Well i wish you success.
  • hello everyone
    firstly i would like to thank all of you who write on this forum and to all who will be helping me.
    i find that the surgeons and doctors are not very g8 when it comes to post-op help..i guess they really cant tell how our bodies would react.
    now here is my problem..i had the surgery exactly 20 days back.the first 12 days swere perfect with no pain..just a bit of swelling and then sudden;y i had bleeding from the wound.(i went out for dinner and sat for an hour)
    i went to the doc and when he checked he realised a infection and said this could be at the time of stich removal.
    it has been 4 days and i still have some bleeding,a bit of leg pain on the side of my left thigh.
    i am not on any pain killers but just started taking 1 tablet of lyrcia(75mg).
    i get my wound cleaned everyday.
    my doctor keeps saying not to worry and that my wound will heal..(but i am a little scared).
    has anyone gone through the same?
    could you lovely people give me advise on the best sleeping position at night.
    also i have started walking and i drive to the doctors which is a 40 min drive(both ways)/
    my doc says that i can drive and walk but i would like to know from you guys who have gone through the same
    (this is my first post and i i promise to keep it short in future)
  • Hi kamalkumar

    I'm new on here too - not sure I can help other than tell you my best sleeping position. I lie on my side with a pillow between my knees and another behind my back and sort of rest back against the one behind my back - hard to describe but I find it very comfortable as I am not having to use muscles to keep myself on my side. If I roll onto my back during the night I bring my lower leg up onto the pillow so I have the pillow under my knees as this keeps my back flat - hope this helps.
  • thanks O
    sound comfortable...will try it out tonight.i did read somewhere about a towel rolled up and putting it below the knees..will try the pillow though
    what kind of back surgery did you get done?
    hope you feeling good :-)
  • If there is infection, I would be very worried about the possibility that it might migrate further into your surgical area. Are you on antibiotics?

    Please be sure to stay on top of this...maybe take your temperature every day to be sure you aren't getting more infected. Since you have someone looking at the wound every day, hopefully that person will notice if anything gets worse.

    You want to sleep in a way that preserves the normal curves of the spine and keeps your body in alignment. Here's a link with slides that show the positions:

  • Neil K,

    I am a 42 year old male. I was also very fit and active, this is until I had a giant L5-S1 disc rupture with no warning. I am now almost a year out from my microdiscectomy. A few things that I have noted during my recovery were: Huge immediate improvement when I woke up from the surgery. Very slow recovery since then. I had scar tissue issues a few months after the surgery and had to get a shot to schrink that. Since then, I am walking 3 miles a day and doing a little jogging. My pain down to a 1 or 1.5 out of 10. There may be some permanent nerve damage and that may be as good as it gets. If so, I am fine with that. You have to realize that it will never be "good as new" again, and you do have to make some life changes, such as, never completely bend over at the waist, not even to tie your shoes. Very long answer to your question is, recovery is slow, but sounds like you are on the right track. Stay the course and walk alot.
  • hello everyone.
    i hope you all doing good.
    my infection has got better and the doc says that my wound is healing from inside.
    thanks all for ur helpfull tips.
    i have started walking upto 1km and will keeop adding to that.
    i will keep u guys posted on my recovery
    godbless us all
  • Hey guys
    Im a 37 year male who had a microdiskectomy on
    Sept 17th 2009
    It's been 3 week's yesterday and Im still having
    severe pain running from my right buttock to my foot.
    Im getting numbness in the foot and tingling in my toes.
    I called my doctor and talked to the nurse which she said it's semi normal from where they messed with the nerve and the nerve being compressed by the disk.

    My question is from someone who actually had the precedure done.
    Is this normal?

    Plue these were all the symptoms i had prior to the operation and it seems like there worse not better
  • hey wrister
    welcome to the forum
    i had the same surgery on the exact date as yours...
    all i can tell you is that i am going through the same thing..pain in my buttocks and left leg.
    what helps me is walking around,,
    just stay positive as i hear from lots of people that its normal to have some pain till the ner ves go back to there place..
    hang in there
    will stay in touch
  • Hello all. I am glad to join your community. I just had microdiscectomy eleven days ago to remove a large, sequestered herniation at l4-l5 as well as an old l5-s1 prolapsed disc. Fortunately, I am doing quite well. I actually went back to work 5 days after surgery. I am still quite a way off from recovery as I have significant muscle paresis from the herniation. After reading many of your posts, perhaps I can shed some light on some of your issues:

    1. We are all different. Not only from an anatomic perspective, but also our ages, sex, weight, underlying medical conditions, etc.. Therefore, all of us are going to have different experiences. So take what you read with a grain of salt and try not to get yourself upset. Stay positive. There really is a mind-body connection to healing.
    2. Nerves are VERY finnicky. Therefore, even after the compression is removed from a nerve, you can expect nerve symptoms. That can range from slow return of strength to continued numbness to frank pain. Nerve roots are also retracted or temporarily repositioned during surgery, this act can cause symptoms in areas of your leg/foot that you didnt have prior to surgery. Wait at least 6 weeks from surgery. With respect to numbess, this may never fully recover...but it should get better.
    As for muscle recovery, there are many variables. Basically, if you had complete or near complete loss of function (say foot drop) prior to surgery, there is only a small rate of complete recovery. Age and time until nerve decompression occured have the greatest impact on success here. If you had mild to moderate loss of strength, some studies relate greater than 80 percent chance of full recovery. Normal muscle strength is graded 5/5. Full recovery was defined as strength of 4/5.
    Swelling is normal. In order to heal, our bodies bring chemicals to the site of injury..this causes swelling slight warmth and discomfort. This is very different from a seroma or abcess. Swelling is normal and expected after surgery. I took a tapered oral steroid (medrol) before and after my surgery. Be warned, however, that this can slow the healing of your skin incision. Why? A steriod inhibits inflammation/swelling/fluid accumulation...which is what we need in order to heal.
    With respect to healing of incisions, most of us will heal an incision in 2 weeks. Occasionally, we can have reactions to the deep sutures. These are absorbable and by nature will cause some swelling until fully resorbed. This can take up to 90 days. Usually, you should not feel these deep sutures after a month or so. Some of us can dehice or spit a deep stitch out. This can look like a little pimple near your incision. Usually this is a "sterile abcess" meaning its dead white blood cells and suture debris. This can cause pain and you can even have a small area of your incision open up. This should heal uneventfully if kept clean and dry.
    As far as when to return to activity? In all aspects of medicine, more and more evidence is showing early mobilization as being beneficial to recovery. I am not saying to mow the lawn, but a slow walk each day is a good thing. Again, we are all different. Therefore, discuss each of your individual concerns with your surgeon. Lastly, I know many of you are anxious and look toward your doc to alleviate your fears. Many of you would love the opportunity to sit and chat with your doc until you feel all of your questions are answered. And I assure you, your docs would love to sit and chat, but medicine in this country is beyond stressful and more often than not we just dont have that much time to spend. I always stress to my patients to educate yourself as well. Now, with the advent of so much material on the internet, this can be accomplished in a few evenings. Certainly, sites like this are wonderful. KUnderstanding about your condition will allow a more productive and directed coversation when you are with your doctor. I do apologize for the long note. Hopefully, I helped answer some of your questions. That being said, I am not a spine surgeon or a neurologist. I fix bones, but not in the spine;)
    ***LEGAL DISCLAIMER*** Take what I said with a grain of salt. Always follow the advice of your specific surgeon as they are familiar with your individual case.
  • I am a 37 year old occupational therapist that is 8 days post op from a microdiscectomy L5 S1 that was caused by a Pars fracture that I had no idea that I had. (changed the load/force placed on the disc and caused a herniation). I had a 2 month history of pain at the right SI joint and was working with PT on my SI instability issues when I had sudden unset of radiating pain, weakness and numbness right lower extremity that scared me into seeing a neurospine doc asap. I really appreciated your post. It agree with everything you said. The mind/body connection is significant and being patient with your body as it recovers is important. I always tell my patients that, but it is a little harder to be patient with my own body. My job is very physical and I will be off work ~8weeks to recover. Thanks again and good luck with your recovery.
    A bored OT at home on FMLA.... : )
    I am working on my spanish to keep busy :))) :)))
  • Hi, am new to this forum, and really appreciated Stubbornback's comments. I had a lumbar discectomy 4 weeks ago, and was crestfallen to notice fairly severe nerve pain in my left calf area, which I didn't have before the op. It seems to pulsate in painful waves throughout the day. Fortunately the severe pain in my left hip is no longer there, but I seemed to have swopped one pain for another!!!! Am doing some exercice at home, and starting a series of physio sessions next week. Thanks to all for thier shared experiences.[ PS: Jenbrook, all the best with the Spanish, I am painting to pass the time!]
  • I had a microdiscectomy and after the surgery all the numbness and tingling stopped but I still had pain in my back,butt hip, thigh. just recently I started getting the numbness,tingling,burning sensations back and the mri said I had a re-herniation. I know Doctors have told me that after surgery things can be swollen and it may take some time for the nerves to get back to normal. I've had 2 back surgeries. One was a 2 level anterior cervical discectomy with fusion on c5-6 and the other a microdiscectomy on L5/S1. I never had any tingling, numbness etc after the cervical surgery. It took about 8 months before the tingling,numbness came back after the other surgery. I did have pain though from the surgery on just some of the pain in the back of my leg was gone but still had butt,hip, back pain. I understand your concern because I felt the same way when the tingling came back. Do they feel an mri needs to be done to be sure it didn't reherniate?
  • I appreciate your perspective (from a physician). I wish that my surgeon was more frank about the recovery process.

    Now I am more realistic about my recovery process. I am 8 postOp (microdisectomy), and relatively doing well. I still have discomfort that only pain killers can relieve;however, once I take one I don't feel any pain. I take one or two a day. I was hoping to be off the meds completely.
  • Hi,

    Since my last post, I have started physio again, and am really happy that I took that step: I have a series of good exercises which I do a few times daily, and feel that I am really making progress: doing the exercises under supervision puts my mind at rest that I am not doing anything which might be counter-productive. So if any of you are wondering whether physio might be helpful... GO FOR IT!!!
  • I appreciate all of you sharing your experiences. Thank you.

    I had the surgery for a severely herniated disc at L4-L5 on 9/21. I had sciatic pain off and on for quite a few years but the first week of August all of a sudden it became excruciating. I could not sit, stand or walk and have been out of work since the first week of August. The docs tried drugs (no relief!!), steroid shots in my spine (the second one actually caused MORE pain!), Chiropractic care, PT and water therapy before rushing me into surgery because of the intensity of my pain- I could not function, so I showed up at the office and made them see me and see how bad I was. God gave me favor with them and I got into surgery less than a week after seeing the NS.
    Immediately after surgery the sciatic pain was gone. It was a rough first week, but I walked. At first it was laps around my living room, holding onto furniture and the walls. My surgery was on a Monday and by Saturday I was able to walk, albeit very slowly, to the end of my driveway and back. Each day I walked a little more. I can now walk a mile comfortably, more or less. My hip is out of whack because of the pre-surgery pain, so it can get painful on my long walks and in getting up. I haven't gone to PT yet because I developed an infection at the incision site and so the incision is still not quite closed. I am anxious to get back to water therapy.
    I have some mild radiating pain down the inside of my right leg and tightness/pain in my upper back. I'm not quite sure of the cause, but I have an apptmt with my NS tomorrow. Anyways, I return to work on Monday and am anxious to get out of the house. It's been quite a challenge to be pretty much sequestered at home.

    Anyways, that's my experience so far...
  • I have that too. I had my surgery on 9/21 and still have not quite closed because of the infection. NS says he isn't worried. He put me on a round of anti-biotics, which I have finished. It has made me nervous too, but I think we are ok. :)

  • I had a fusion about 2 years ago at L5-S1 that went perfectly. Walking within a week and so on. Has second fusion 8-10-09 next level up. Drain plug came out that night and they decided to leave it out. Next day developed faever of 102-103 and BP dropped to 60/40. Had fever all night Tuesday and was released on Wed with no antibiotics to take. Was sonewhat fine until the following Wed when I found blood all over bathroom floor from incsicion. Went to docotor and he just cleaned it up and covered it up. On Friday bleeding started again, went to doctor again who sent straight back to hospital to have the seroma as I later found it out to be called cleaned out. Ever since then I have lost all strength in left leg and it is the same as right one was pre op and much worse back pain. My wuestion is, could the untreated seroma have infeced the bone. I am steroids now to reduce the inflamation for 12 days and then possible another myleogram to see what else is there. Can anybody lend any insight into this for me?
  • Following painful sciatica, I had a L4/5 microdisectomy on 17th. Oct. 2009, two days after suffering foot drop. The operation was successful in that the knee and hip pain has almost disappeared. Perhaps if I had had the op two days earlier, I would not have sustained the foot drop. Stubbornback's post is helpful on this score but I was warned of this an hour before surgery (not the frame of mind you need at this stage). Staples(stitches) are coming out tomorrow and physio starts Wednesday. I am self employed and would love to get back behind the wheel, digging and working (in that order). Best wishes to all
  • Hi, Similar circumstances to you. Im 35 zero back pain til December 2008 then by January 2009 L5 S1 herniation. I finally had my microdiscectomy on 7th August 2009 so I'm just over 13 weeks post op. I now have almost zero sciatica nothing below the leg just the odd nerve twinge in the left buttock.

    I have started some PT and rehab back strengthening excercises but have loads of lower back pain, which is something I didn't have too much of prior to the operation. Does anyone else have lower back pain. My doctor says its because the whole muscle structure in my spine changed while I was unable to bend etc while the sciatica was bad. Can anyone else advise on their experiences of what I would describe as just general back ache after the microdisc op. I was so happy when the sciatica went that was very painful. However the new general back pain is an almost permanent ache that is really draining and depressing, Better than sciatica but not good.

    Just thought I'd add that Ive read this post since my op and its been very inspiring but my first post to-date
  • I had upper back pain that I didn't experience prior to my microdiscectomies. My doctor said losing part of your disc can misaligned your spinal structural. Great! A new problem.

    Well....I thought the back pain was from my poor posture when I was holding myself in odd positions when I was dealing with the pain.

    Eventually muscle pain went away.
  • Hello to Barrelman - On the question of new pain, I would imagine that the operation itself, damages or bruises the surrounding muscles etc. I plucked up the courage to watch some You Tube videos of the operation (post my op) which may explain. It would appear that there was an extended delay between January and August, which may have contributed to your pain. Why the delay?

    My minor pains have virtually gone, but I am concerned that the way I am forced to walk may cause ongoing problems. Hopefully, P.T. will overcome this.


  • In May/June of 2009 I realized that my entire right side was numb from my arm pit to my toes. The numbness stopped at my spinal chord. In August 2009 the Neurologist confirmed a severe herniated disc at C6-C7. Because of my symptoms I needed to have the herniated removed at once. My surgery was scheduled for the end of August. Upon awakening I felt immediate relief. I did not know how bad I felt until I felt good.

    It is almost 3 months post surgery and my recovery is going very well. I am in physical therapy now and it is quite physical. My range of motion is ever increasing weekly. Because the herniation can affect your bicep muscle, strengthening it is ongoing. I can not raise my left arm above my head for very long - doing my hair is a challenge every morning.

    Having this surgery has returned my quality of life.

    Hang in there and know God is able to heal!
  • I had my microdiscectomy about 8 hours ago. From what I can tell right now, I am not having the sciatic pain or the pain that felt like I had a broken tailbone. It seems as though the pain is only surgery related at this point. I may have a little more bleeding than expected, so kind of keeping an eye on that. Can't get comfortable but want to sleep. I am moving a lot, walking, up and down the stairs so trying to do what I've been reading. Thanks for having this column, it's been very helpful!
  • Rcarmi....glad you are doing well.
    I say follow doctors orders for the full 6 weeks to 3 months. The biggest problem is that folks start feeling better after 2 weeks and push to do too much.

    If you keep to the basics - no bending, twisting, lifting. And walk and rest and don't sit for more than 10 mins...I bet you'll continue to do well!

  • I had a microdiscectomy on L5 S1 on June 17, 2010. Thank you to everyone for sharing your stories. It has made be feel so much better knowing that what I am feeling is similar to others. The injury occurred on 12/31/09. In January I went to my doctor and he insisted that an MRI was not necessary because I am a young (33) healthy female and I probably had a pulled hamstring. I assured him that the pain I was feeling could not possibly be a result of a pulled muscle. Side note, at the time I had an HMO. I went through months of unsuccessful PT and he still would not order an MRI. In May, I switched to a PPO, immediately had an MRI and found out that I had a 11x14mm bulging disc with severe nerve impingement. I also found out that my former PCP was had been in a contentious contract dispute with my insurance at the time of my initial visit and had recently been dropped by them.

    Anyway, after the surgery I felt immediate relief. It was too good to be true. For the first time in 6 months I did not have nerve pain in my left leg. Then, last night I couldn't sleep. I am still on pain meds, but the pain kept me awake. I will say that it is not the same pain that I had pre-surgery. This is more like am intermittent dull ache down my left leg as opposed to pins and needles.

    I know I am very early into my recovery, but is this typical? I am on medical leave for at least 6-8 weeks and I am also curious to know how long it took for people to return to work. Obviously I know it is different for everyone.
  • Since you are only 10 days after your microdiscectomy, it is too early to tell. From what I read here on this forum, your surgeon puts some kind of steroid to calm the nerves. Therefore, the first week or so, you feel immediate relief after the surgery. Then, the steroid wears off. I took some oral steroids after the surgeries to calm my pain.

    In my case, I also felt immediate relief from the sciatic pain for about 10 days. Later, I had intermittent and transient pain in both legs (prior to surgery I only had pain on my right leg.) I also experienced some upper back pain, which went away.

    As far as my pain level, I took enough pain meds that allowed to me to sleep. I suggest you call your doctor to see if he/she can adjust your dosage or try something different.

    So it has been over a year since my two microdiscectomies. I had a revision surgery because I reherniated my disc at L5S1. So far, I still feel minor sciatic pain, which can be managed by over the counter pain meds. I can't say the surgeries were 100% successful, but I have my life back. Would I have the surgeries again? Yes, I would.
  • I returned to work in 3 months post MD last year. But it has been a roller coaster ride because I wanted to do too much, too soon. I still have sciatic pain and numbness which gets worse, then better. Still taking Lyrica & Ultram but at least no narcs until recently.
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