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What to expect after Microdiscetomy

stargazer81sstargazer81 Posts: 6
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:41 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery

I was in a car accident approx 8 months ago, and after trying EVERYTHING else, I am scheduled for a lumbar microdiscetomy at the end of the month.

I would like any feedback from anyone who has had this procedure on the recovery period. I am not nervous at all about the actual surgery, it's the recovery period I am concerned about.

What was your pain level after the surgery and how long did it last for?
How long did you need to take off work?
How long before you were able to clean the house/walk the dog, etc?
How long will I need to stay in bed? I hear you can lay down or stand/walk, but cannot sit for a while.

Will I be able to take a 3 hour drive 5 weeks post surgery? And walk around for a few hours a day? I have a trip scheduled.

Anything else I should prepare for and have available post surgery? Heating Pad/Ice Packs, etc?

Thanks for any insight you can provide! I was originally told to get a fusion so I'm not really sweating the MicroD as much.


  • A lot of people go into a microd thinking that they'll be ok as it is not as bad as a fusion. It is still major surgery, just the recovery is easier.

    I am probably your worst case scenario for a microd, although the surgery was techincally a success I was in considerable pain afterwards and it didn't work for me hence the fusion.

    I was in hospital for 4 days and was in bed pretty much for the rest of that week. By the end of week 2 I was driving and doing the school run, but I don't think I could have gone to work for another week at least. I was able to do light housework by 4 weeks, but never did get back to doing vacuuming or other heavy housework so I can't comment about that.

    At 5 weeks post surgery you probably could manage a 3 hour drive, but I would try to stop every 30 mins and have a walk for 5 minutes or so.

    Post surgery I found a raised toilet seat a must. I managed without a grabber, but would have been better with one I think. Ice packs are also good.

    Best of luck for your op
  • Glad you are here.
    There are quite a few of us with microdiscectomy experience.

    I am a week out from a revision.
    I would say the key is that people under-estimate how important the recovery is. The hardest part about the recovery (I found out with the first one) was that I did too much too soon.

    Let me know if you want to know about my surgical experiences. They were each a little different. Both required an overnight stay (1st time b/c the surgery was late in the day and 2nd time b/c on revision there is a slightly higher chance of infection so they wanted to monitor me).

    The recovery is 6 weeks. The key the 1st 2 weeks is do not sit more than 5 mins at a time. I also recommend approx 5 min of flat walking every 1-1.5 hours. The walking helps keep scar tissue from tethering to your nerve. I am 1-week post op and walk about 12 mins every 1.5 hours.

    The other key is no bending, twisting, lifting. Seems easy but it's not. I felt so good the 1st time around that I didn't think much of "slight" bending to get laundry done. Do not do it. I think I felt so good by week 2 that I overdid it and re-herniated the disc (which I never felt so not sure if I reherniated or if there was a 2nd loose piece).

    I would ask your doctor about the trip 5 weeks post-op. If you are driving, I would be very careful and stop every 30 mins to walk around. I went to training class 5-weeks post op and even teh hour drive put strain on my leg and back.

    I think the walking around will depend on you and how you do. Some people do amazing.

    They key is it really takes 3 months to heal from the surgery but the 1st 6 weeks is critical.

    Again, the recovery hasn't been bad either time from a pain perspective. The tough challenge is not to push, pull, strain, bend, twist, slight bend, lift, overdo it. The biggest problem with the surgery is that you will feel good and think it's ok to do more than you should.

    I will come back and post a few links to others on here.

    The surgyer has 10% failure rate, especially in the 1st 3 monhts. Mostly because people overdo it.

    I'm on my revision. I know that my failure rate is now 20% so I'm being extra careful. It may just be a bad disc I have but I'm praying mine failed because I didn't follow the rules carefully.

    As for walking the dog...I would be cautious. It only takes one 'tug' or trip to throw things. I would ask your doctor about this. I also missed walking the dog and started doing this way too soon too.

    Let me know if you want more information.
    Again, surgery isn't too bad. Recovery isn't too bad but you have to keep yourself honest about overdoing it.

    Good luck. When is the surgery?
    p.s. I was told fusion when the 1st one failed but I just didn't hurt that badly. I found plenty of doctors that agreed to try to revision b/c fusion is serious. So to avoid fusion, take this surgery seriously.

    I'll be back soon.
  • I told you I'd be back.

    Here's a link to another thread with some information from a person who just had a microD.

    You can also see my nots on my revision.

  • Hi Star

    Check out the post at the top. It has a very comprehensive list of items to get. The microD usually is on the easier side so you probably won't need everything on the list. Alot depends on how you tolerate pain and how your surgery goes.

    My surgery was at the base of the neck which I think is easier than back because there isn't as much above pressing down. Gravity gets us all eventually. lol

    I would also speak with your surgeon or his PA about what to expect for your case. Ask for best and worst case and take an average. The trip should be OK but plan on lots of breaks to move and to rest. Try to keep your activities on the lighter side just to be safe.
  • Had a MicroD at L3-L4 on Dec 21, 2009 for herniation. This followed a fusion at L4-L5 in Feb, 2008.

    Recovery from the MicroD was MUCH easier than the fusion. My pain level after surgery was about a 3/10, and it was all in my left leg, not in the back. The surgery was a success, but it has taken until about a week ago to get the pain level down to a 1. A big dose of oral steroid, a course of Lyrica (avoid if possible), and lots of massage and stretching by a talented PT have done the trick. The nerves have to heal, and that takes time.

    Chores: Get a grabber, and use it. Don't bend! Unless your dog is small and sedate, I'd advise against walking, as another poster recommended.

    I still don't do chores like vacuuming and doing tile floors. Too much push-pull strain. Probably another 2 weeks.

    Positions: As you indicate, standing and lying down are fine, but my surgeon says no sitting past 20 minutes at a time. For driving or riding, I stop every 20-30 min and walk a few laps around the truck. My surgeon is 3 hours away, over 3- 11,000 ft. passes, aand we came home the day after surgery, so you should be able to make your scheduled trip.

    Walking is really important. My surgeon has his patients walk a mile from the first postop day. At 2 weeks, it goes up to 2 miles.

    Return to work: It all depends on your job. I was able to return to work in a couple of days, but I don't have to lift stuff. There was a 5# limit, only recently increased to 10#.

    I hope this has been helpful. Good luck in your recovery!
  • Heh.. Thanks DNice.. that would be my post and L5S1 MicroD Surgery..

    First, my $.02 on your original questions..

    What was your pain level after the surgery and how long did it last for?

    Hospital: At a 2 or 3 in recovery and until about 4 hours post, at about 5-7 through most of my hospital stay.. Except when they pulled the drain out of my back.. that was about a 100+. If you've got a drain, I HIGHLY recommend a shot of Demerol or something else for pain management when they pull it out. That was absolutely the WORST part..

    Home: Days 1-4 about a 5-7, at 12 days out it's about a 3-6 depending on the day..

    How long did you need to take off work? Officially 3, but I can't travel for 3 weeks.

    How long before you were able to clean the house/walk the dog, etc? Sorry, no idea. At 12 days I wouldn't even consider it.

    How long will I need to stay in bed? I hear you can lay down or stand/walk, but cannot sit for a while.

    Will I be able to take a 3 hour drive 5 weeks post surgery? I've driven in a car but haven't driven a car. The first time seemed OK, but it has been really unpleasant since.

    And walk around for a few hours a day? A few hours.. I walked 5 hours on and off shopping and lunch, REALLY bad idea.. I felt horrible that night and it took about 3 days to feel better.

    In hindsight.. I'd work up to a few hours over the course of a 6 weeks.

    General Comments and Miscellaneous Rambling about what I've learned (that I can remember at this point) ;)


    I had the top Spine Surgeon at an LA academic hospital tell me I could get a MicroD done Friday, walk out and go back to a desk job more than likely the next week (i.e. 3-4 days later)


    I chose to have my surgery done by an excellent surgeon locally at a private facility and I know better now.. recovery takes time. That phrase always makes me cringe, because I'm not good with fuzzy numbers when it comes to this.

    Over the course of 4 months pre surgery and 12 days post.. I've accepted that healing takes as much time as it takes.

    I thought that was preposterous before this adventure started.

    Now, I use it as my mantra to keep from getting pissed off when I don't make linear progress in my recovery.

    Hospital and Meds

    Try to stay in the hospital overnight.. or 2 nights if you can swing it.

    Stay in an orthopedic hospital unit, not a general surgery unit for recovery.

    Using only PCA for pain management is a bad idea. Having to hit a button every 12 minutes to alleviate pain, when all you want to do is sleep is MISERABLE.

    I've found a long acting pain medication like Oxycontin is much better than any PCA. It is amazing how well it relieves pain. Use the PCA for flare ups.

    Neurontin is your friend when your nerves are upset.

    Last but but absolutely not least,

    I've learned having a great group of people here to help you through this is amazing.

    If I didn't have folks here helping me out with all of my questions, I'm sure my Dr. would have fired me as a patient by now.

    Hope in some small way, I've returned the favor.

  • My L5S1 Micro D is 12 or 13 days out.. If I can get to a 1 in 7 weeks I'm going to be thrilled!!

    Quick question, why the oral steroids after surgery?

  • Hi, I'm back.

    I have a silly high threshold for pain apparently.
    I'd say 1st time around, I'd agree pain was 5-6 for 1st 1-2days. Then it went to 4-5 for a few days. I actually came off pain meds by day 13 the 1st time.

    2nd time around...got nauseous so had anti-naseau upon waking up and one shot of I think Fetinol. Threw up the first day so opted against pain meds b/c I didn't want to throw them up. Luckily 2nd surgery wasn't as painful except at the incision point. My pain stayed at 4 but when I took tylenol, it dropped. When I finally could stomach percaset, it was under control.

    I'm 9 days out on round 2 and I'd say pain varies from 1-4max. By end of day, I'm ready for percaset so probably a little higher around 3-4. I probably could do without but I said I'm trying very hard to be careful this time.

    Healing takes time. This time I opted not to even ask when I could return to work. Last time it was "well, when you feel ready" (mistake), I was itching to go back to work so worked remotely 4 days after surgery (though was on a lot of pain meds) and went into office week 3 full time. It was too much.

    This time took 2 weeks off (sat on 3 calls this week...well, laid in bed to listen to them) and want to work remote starting week 3 but b/c of work liability, they want doctors approval so I told them fine, I'll wait until my follow up on 2/23.

    I didn't have a drain either time. Very fortunate.
    I agree if you can stay over, stay overnight.

    1st time - stayed over b/c surgery was later in day and they couldn't get me all antibiotics in a reasonable time. They would have released me at like 10/11pm at night which was nearly impossible b/c PT and doctors didn't want to come in to do that.

    2nd time - my doctor just submitted for overnight and I'm thankful he did. I almost stayed 2 b/c I just didn't feel great (stomach was not settled, BP was low) but due to pending snow storm, I did get discharged late the 2nd day. They would have let me stay but it would have been 2 extra days and I don't sleep well in hospitals. They left it up to me and at 1pm I said...let's plan for 2:30/3pm and come check. They came and we did one more walk after I ate and had a percaset and I could tell I was ok to be released and comfortable. Nurse had the NS PA check me one more time and they agreed I was much better and could go home.

  • Hi,

    First I'll say what everyone says, everyone is different and everyone heals different...blah...blah...blah.

    I had my microdiscectomy (L4/L5) surgery Feb 2, so Im 15 days into my recovery. My pain level was at a 7. Im taking 6 weeks off of work and have been told I won't be able to lift anything over 10 lbs. for about 3 months. I intend on probably extending that since I really don't want a reherniation. According to my wife and mother, the surgery itself only took about 40 minutes. I remember waking up and thanking the doctor and then having them wheel me into the recovery room. I remember being very thirsty so they gave me some water but I was having trouble swallowing for some reason. This was the first time I had ever been put under so I don't know if that had anything to do with it. My doctor came to visit me briefly to ask if I was in any immediate pain and did a few quick tests to ensure I could move my feet and hadn't lost any strength. I think I was in the recovery room for about 30 minutes and then they wheeled me into my private room. At this point I started feeling a significant amount of discomfort and pain in my lower back. Lots of pressure. This was normal though. They gave me percaset for the pain but I couldn't keep it down. If you know you a pain med will make you sick, tell them and have them give you something different, throwing up and spine surgery do not mix. Eventually they had me get up to try and walk and I felt very weak in my right leg and it was tingling and very uncomfortable. This is not uncommon either. Since I couldn't keep anything down and was in a considerable amount of pain since I kept throwing up the pain meds, they ended up keeping me overnight but as you probably know, this is an outpatient procedure. I did go home the next day though. For me, it was difficult to walk, I could only take half steps and needed a cane to help me walk (I walk normal without a cane now). Getting up and down was the most painful for me. Go slow and be deliberate with your movements. Also, begin walking even if its only for a few minutes as soon as you can. It has really helped me stay focused because I set goals for myself each day. I always keep a towel nearby me so I can give my lower back some support if I feel I need it. Laying down feels much better than sitting. Sitting causes my back to get tired very quickly.

    My nerve had been pinched for three years, so I actually didn't feel immediate relief when I went home. It wasn't until Feb 14 that I felt my sciatica going away. It isn't completely gone, but my pain level is now a 1. Overall, I am glad I had the surgery and wish I had done it sooner. When I get sore, I take a muscle relaxer and some motrin and I use ice. I don't need to take my pain meds anymore.

    I'd say that if your dog is a puller, you're going to want to get some help to walkit. You don't want them jerking you around.

    Hope this helps.

  • Hi Star gazer.

    Here are my answers:

    Pain level after the surgery: I would estimate my pre-op pain as a constant 8-9 of severe nerve pain in my back and leg but after the op it was immediately down to a 3-4 and as soon as the drain came out fell further to a 2-3. The pain was totally different after the op, it felt like I had been kicked in the back really hard but there was no nerve pain at all, just some numbness and tingling where the pain used to be. I had some nerve pain in the opposite leg for a couple of months but that went without any treatment. Two years on, I am now in zero pain. My pain experience might be different than most as I was unable to take any pain killers before the op as I was breastfeeding, so once the nerve pain was gone the post op pain seemed much easier to deal with.

    Time off work: I am a full time mother so I had 2 weeks R&R at my parents place and then I was at home looking after my toddler and baby with no help in the day. I was able to manage fine with most stuff but couldn't lift the laundry basket or put my baby in or out of the car seat for a couple of months.

    Bed rest: I was in hospitial 2 nights as I had a low blood pressure issue but after that I was able to sit/walk/stand/lie down in whatever combination suited me at the time.

    Driving: I managed to be driven to my parents place 3 days after my op and that was 3 hours away but I had a couple of rest stops along the way. I drove myself home 2 weeks after that.

    Anything else: Ice and heat are always good options for pain relief but I think the most important thing is to listen to your body. I found doing pilates really helpful to rebuild my core strength, I started back at the gym 4 months post op and worked up from swimming 2 lengths and 5 minutes on the cross trainer.

    I would say my op was 100% success and I have since had another baby with no back issues cropping up. I found the recovery from the op far easier than coping with the pre-op pain, and I was able to take things at my own pace and recover in my own time. My surgeon said not to lift anything that I had to test the weight of first, and as long as I held him close to my body if was fine to pick up my 6 month old baby, although I can't remember how much he weighed at the time....

    Good luck, I hope your experience is as positive as mine.


  • For me the worst part by far was getting the 9 staples out 10 days after the op, it was horrendous as some of them had become embedded and it was nasty getting them dug out.....
  • cheeka,

    I was surprised to hear that you had 9 staples. Im just curious, how large was your incision was and which disc did you have your discectomy on. My incision is about 1.5 inches and I was told they sewed me up internally and then placed some kind of glue in and over the wound, then they just put three or four steri (sp??) strips over it. Glad to hear your surgery was a success.
  • I'm surprised by this too.
    My incision in about 1.5 inches (2 max).
    The sewed me from inside and had dissolving stiches on outside...they referred to it as a cosmetic surgery type of closure.

    I kept it covered for 5 days, then uncovered it and there were 2 steri-strips that I was told to leave alone until my 2-week appt.

  • I think there are two important points:

    most of your questions are phrased: "how long before I can do x or y....?" It is really not a matter of how soon you can do something but how smart is it to do it.

    I'm sure you could walk the dog a couple days after getting out of the hospital, but you need to think, is it worth the risk? Even a small dog can see a rabbit or something when you least expect it, and suddenly lurch or pull. One trip or fall would be all it takes to reherniate when you are not yet healed.

    This applies to everything else -- housework, particularly running a vacuum cleaner, sweeping...any action where you are pushing, pulling and twisting are really hard on a new surgery...and discs in general.

    It pays to be cautious for the first six weeks, especially, but it takes a good three months for the disc to scab over and form a solid surface that can withstand normal routine.

    My second point is that you should take whatever time the surgeon gives you and then mentally double it. Most doctors err on the side of being overly optimistic and give you the shortest time. Maybe you can do it as quickly as the surgeon states, but will you be back in six months complaining of the same symptoms? Also it leads to patients thinking the procedure is a simple one and that they'll be back to their old activities in no time at all. This is very misleading and unfair to the patient, I believe.

    Back surgery is unlike any other surgery. Normally people have surgery and when the surgical site heals, they are pretty much back to normal. This is not the case with spine surgery. The patient has spine surgery for pain relief or for instability. In very few cases is the patient returned to the way he/she was prior to injury or onset of pain. You don't just pick up and move on the way you always have done.

    Once you (the patient) have spine surgery, unless you want to find yourself right back in the same situation, there have to be lifestyle changes. The patient must learn new body mechanics, and must become very aware of using good posture. He/she needs to be aware of what activities are hard on the discs and make decisions accordingly. "Back" exercises that were learned in PT need to be continued for a lifetime....I could go on and on, but I'm sure you get the point.

    Good luck to you....Gwennie

  • I ended up with staples as my surgery overran. It was supposed to be 40 minutes and ended up taking 2 hours so the neurosurgeon left once the hard stuff was done and the junior guy finished up, his approach was to whack the staples in! My cousin is a Dr and he was surprised by the staples too, but I can't really complain as I have been so pleased with the result of the surgery, and as the scar is right at the bottom of my back I don't mind that it's not the prettiest sight in the world!

    Also, forgot to say be careful walking the dog, I would imagine one pull on the lead could land you right back where your started....
  • Thank you everyone. It really helps to hear from people who have actually had the procedure!

    My pain level is about a constant 8 right now (get it down to 4 with percocet). When the sciatic pain kicks it, it's unbearable. My goal is to get off the daily meds.

    I go in next Thursday and am going shopping to prepare tonight. Time to buy some comfy pants and slippers!
  • If possible get a 'gripper'. If you can't find one, they will sell them at the hospital gift store (or pharmecy). it lets you grab things to pick them up off the floor...amazingly helpful.

    Also, if you aren't sure you will have help when you get home, cook some stuff in advance and put in freezer. Put things up at reachable level - towels, a few pots, water, cups, extra toilet paper.

    Good luck and keep us posted.
    We are all here to help each other!
  • I had the surgery today and woke up in a pretty bad amount of pain, I was told I had staples in my incision. I'm not too happy about that, as I was told it was a "stitchless" incision (just a band aid). They kind of wanted me to stay overnight, but the weather is horrific here in NY so I was able to walk, and go to the bathroom, so they let me go home.

    I'm controlling the pain w/ meds, but the dr. left really, really vague aftercare instructions, and again, I'm confused/angry about the staples. I guess I will call their office tomorrow. It is VERY hard for me to get around right now without leaning on someone. Hope to feel better tmrw.
  • Hey there,
    I know how you may not have wanted to go home b/c of weather. I stayed overnight for my revision and they wanted to hold me a 2nd night but with pending storms, they also gave me the choice. I had stayed 1-night and the reason they wanted to hold me was due to nausea/low blood pressure. They didn't pressure me one way or the other which was great but they did tell me with the storm, if I stayed, I would stay another 2 days b/c they won't release back patients in a snow storm.

    As for the staples, don't be too upset. Sounds like they made a decision based on what was best. I know it stinks but it may be for the best.

    I would call the doctor tomorrow...best to ask them your questions.

    If it helps, a few things I know:
    - no shower until they tell you (I know it's at least 48 hours but this last time they had me wait 5 days)
    - ask them when to remove the bandage, probably different for staples
    - no bending...NONE! This means someone will have to help you get dressed, put socks on etc.
    - no twisting, keep shoulders and hips aligned
    - no sitting for more than 5-10 mins (if you can even stand that).
    - I hope they taught you how to log roll in/out of bed safely. If not, I can find an article that describes it
    - no lifting, no raising arms over your head. You can scratch your head but don't stretch your arms
    - drink water
    - try to walk 5 mins every hour, but ask them b/c not sure with staples what is good
    - watch for fever...it is a sign of infection
    - I was told no ibuprofin for 2 weeks but not sure if your doctors are the same.

    Good luck, hopefully you get a good night sleep. I know that's the one thing key about coming home is that I sleep better at home than in the hospital.

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