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I just had a discectomy/ laminectomy on Monday Sept. 27 - I have so many questions!

MeghanDawnMMeghanDawn Posts: 4
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:47 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery

I just had a discectomy/ laminectomy on my L5 five days ago. I am still all kinds of nervous regarding recovering from this kind of thing and have quite a few questions - any of you out there who have experience with this, please help!

I am a 24 year old college student and I have never had back pain/ back problems... any serious medical problems really until this happened. I have no idea what caused the disc to herniate (no car accident, nothing). Back in May I noticed my leg felt kinda weird, and that my foot was a little bit numb. I thought I had pulled a muscle or something and disregarded it. Then, my entire left foot gradually went numb, I started falling over when I'd wear heels, and then I lost the ability to move any of my toes. I figured it was a pinched nerve, but it'd work itself out. THEN, the shooting pain down my leg started. This lead to ER visits/ neurologist/ MRI = herniated disc diagnosis.

After the initial ER trip, the pain pretty much subsided. I wasn't in pain too often and the herniation wasn't too bad, but the numbness of my foot and inability to move my toes never went away. I began physical therapy and everything was going pretty great until about 3 weeks ago. I fell and caused the disc herniation to get much, much worst. Pain was a non-stop 10, I was in the ER twice in 4 days, and was barely able to walk. The pain was to the level where I could not continue with my normal life activities in any way. Pain medication did very little (even shots of delaudid in the ER). I saw my physical therapist and he was not very optimistic about being able to do much. I went back to my neurosurgeon (who is amazing) and he got a new MRI which proved the disc herniation was much more severe. The MRI was on a Thursday and I was worked in for surgery on Monday.

OK, now that I've written a short story about my journey through disc herniation - these are my questions/ concerns.

The numbness in my foot has not improved in the slightest bit. I still cannot move my toes. What are the chances this is going to get better? I actually not only have the numbness, but I also have pain on the same foot (I had this pain prior to surgery as well). I don't know how to describe it - it feels almost like my foot is very sunburned? Most people I've talked to didn't seem to recover fully from the numbness.

I am a student in a very intense major and could only afford to miss the week of classes after the surgery. I have to resume classes this upcoming week. When is it ok to drive? (I've tried to look this up and I've heard everything from 1 week - 4 weeks). Also, I am an interior design major - so I have to do a lot of sitting at a desk and working on a computer or sitting at a drafting table and drafting. What is the best way to handle having to accomplish those types of tasks? Any tips?

How long until I'm a moderately functional person again???

Last question - it feels like the numbness is almost spreading in my leg. All of the shooting sciatica type pain is gone, but today (for the first time - five days after surgery) my leg has started to feel a little odd and very mildly numb. Is this normal?

Also, any advice or tips on recovery would be greatly appreciated!

Thank-you so much!



  • sugar coated ..you will be back to old self in no time and never have to worry about the back or leg pain ever again ! NOW THE REAL answer as a person with 15 years back pain and 2 operation and a big third very soon .and many painful procedures under my belt i feel like i may be able to give you some answers ..first its normal for you to still be in pain and have weirs funny aches /feeling in your legs inparticularly your calf and toes .it may go down in its severity or it may go or it may stay the same .its very early to start getting worried about your pains you will need at least 6 months to get to feeling better .but remember you are young and young people tend to do mad stuff and then end up in the ER again if you are lucky enough to have a good out come {and you may yet its early days }remember that you must look after your back because as the years roll on you will probably need more surgery on your back ..sorry but many people on here have had to have more surgery say 10 years on {that's what happens to me .who the hell told you that a week to a month to recover ??? that is very optimistic !! and unrealistic 6 months was a realistic and optimistic opinion .for me at 30 it took 12 months before i could be back to somewhere i was before the surgery and i was a fit man then ..now i am v ill ..so my next surgery will take between 18/36 months to recover .just go with the flow regarding your education /work if you can and drive after 6 weeks {that's the uk rules} you will have to check with your doctor how long before you can drive again }
    just take it easy and look after you back if you are in lots of pain then see your doctor for some stronger pain killers
  • I had my first laminectomy around your age ( I was 26). Remember that everyone is different. As for regaining sensation, I never did but, I waited a very long time to have the surgery, so my nerve damage was bad. For you it depends on several factors, and since I'm not a Doc I can only say that most do not regain it. Some others get some sensation back, but not all of it.

    As to driving after both of my laminectomies I was driving by day 10-14. Of course commom sense needs to be the key factor. I started with very short trips (5-10 minutes) mostly for building confidence. Depending on your post ops meds, again,use common sense, if you feel like you shouldn't drive don't!!

    For me sitting was tough for a pretty long time, so I don't know what to tell you about that. Id bring an ice pack, also sitting in the "right" chair with proper support is critical (or was for me).

    I started to feel mostly "normal" by around the 3-4th week. I considered myself back to normal around 6-8 weeks. I've always been in very good shape, and my job is very demanding phyiscally, so I took it slow, and didn't push myself too hard. For me the hardest part was NOT doing too much once I started to feel better. My first laminectomy was 100% helpful (at least to start, but that is another story). I had no real complications.

    For being 5-6 days post op it is not at all surprising that your having weird sensations. Keep in mind that there is probably a good deal of inflamation which could explain what your feeling.

    I can't stress this enough, everyone recovers and heals differently. Follow your Doctors advice above all, and use common sense. The people here are great, so feel free to ask questions. I wish you the best of luck in your recovery. I hope this helps!


  • So, remember that a lot of people on this website are the people who are severe and never had resolution. THERE ARE MANY MORE THAT ARE FINE and therefore are not there. I believe they are the vast majority otherwise the powers that be would not allow these surgeries!

    So in my experience I had a laminectomy in 2005. I was out of work for six weeks (I was told not to drive for that whole time)and then I started PT. My pain took a bit to go away, don't remember how long. But remember the nerves are really irritated and they take awhile to get back to normal. Also you could have scar tissue but you won't know for awhile. TAKE IT EASY. You are only 5 days out. It is to early to know.

    Call you doctor about any and all of this! Hang in there.

    Also remember you need to allow yourself to heal so you do not re-herniate. I have re-herniated and got another disectomy at the end of 2008. And then again. Now I have to get surgery because I have no disc left.

  • Hi Meg.
    My L4-L5 disc herniated the nucleus material out of itself and compressed the nerve for the leg. It stayed that way for about 9-10 months. My calf and leg shrank. After my micodiscectomy, it took a good 6 months for the lingering sensations to fully resolve.
    Of course every case is different, but it is sometimes said that a nerve heals a millimeter a month.

    I went back to school and was taking 5 classes this semester. About 3 weeks ago I did something really stupid and blew out my L5-S1 again. I could not walk and had to drop out of school. There was no way I could be in class. It's slightly better now, but probably I am needing somekind of procedure.

    Learn about the anatomy of a lumbar disc. www.chirogeek.com
    Once the annulus is compromised, it is never as strong as it once was. Scar tissue forms over the tear but is not as strong as the annulus fibers.

    What kind of incision do you have? (in other words, what approach did the surgeon use- open or minimally invasive?)

    Read the post-op thread at the top of the thread listing page. Satin sheets are good.

    Avoid bending, lifting, twisting for as long as you can. Also good to avoid: sneezing, coughing, hard laughing, retching(gagging), shoving, nudging, dragging.

    It is normal for a surgeon to dump in a bunch of meds into the incision before they close. These meds aid in anesthetizing and reducing inflamation. The effect may last a week or two. It is not uncommon for pain to come back after this period(the honeymoon).

    On the sunny and mild Central Coast of California

    L4-L5 endoscopic transforaminal microdiscectomy June, 2007
    L5-S1 endoscopic transforaminal microdiscectomy May, 2008
  • Hi Meg...I'm so sorry you are having to face this at such a young age. I hope I can offer some advice.

    Paul is asking some great questions.
    I had a microdiscectomy on L5/S1 which is the procedure that I think is similar to what you had. The incision is small (I'd say less than 2 inches) and they went in, cut some of the lamina (bone) away and then removed teh disc that had herniated and was pressing the nerve.

    If you had this, there is a chance they missed some of the material but being so quickly out of surgery, I'd doubt it's that. It sounds like you tried to get back into the 'swing of things' pretty quickly.

    My advice based on my experience...try to take it easy. This is one case where when you feel a little better, it is NOT a good idea to push it. You will risk reherniation. Even if you had out-patient surgery, back surgery is major.

    So, I wouldn't drive yourself for at least 2 weeks. I would keep your time even as a passenger in a car to a minimum. Ask your doctor about driving after that. Personally, I'd avoid it for 4 weeks because driving causes you to twist/torque as you adjust to curves, turns, etc. Not good while your back is trying to heal. But if you have to and your doctor says it's ok, keep those trips to a minimum.

    Remember, sitting is not good for you right now. It adds something like 30% load to your lower spine. Try to keep sitting to a minimum. Meaning, sit for no more than 20-30 mins at a time, then get up and walk around.

    If you are concerned, remember you can call your doctor for advice. You dont' have to wait until your follow up. You could have inflammation from the surgery still. You are not even a week out from it.

    Is there anyway your school will work with you on a medical leave so that you don't lose the funds? At a minimum, I would have a 1 on 1 conversation with your professors to explain to them that you had surgery. Explain that you'll need to sit on the outskirts of the class and stand periodically for the next 6 weeks.

    PM me if you want advice. You are early on. I wouldn't be too nervous if you don't feel immediate improvement. Sometimes when the nerve is hit hard or compressed, it takes some time for it to 'wake up'.

    I only visit about 3x/week but I'm here if you want to chat.
  • And, while you're getting all of this great advice from these people, there is someone who seems absent in the picture. You should be getting some of this information from your surgeon- he might have some opinion, for example, on how long you should wait to drive (especially if he has prescribed medication post-op).

    Just a thought :)
  • This has all been very, very helpful.

    I had the very minimally invasive microdiscectomy. I was in surgery for an hour and a half and went home later that night.

    My surgeon is great and has provided me with recovery details, but I haven't talked to anyone who has personally gone through any kind of back surgery. I was told driving in 1-2 weeks was okay by my doctor, as long as I wasn't on pain killers. However, when I started researching it online I kept reading contradicting instructions.

    I am no longer on any pain killers, and feel fine. I was taking percocet the day after the surgery - but haven't needed them since. Now I just pop some ibuprofen occasionally.

    I know full recovery is a long time out. I was told I should wait 3 months before starting any kind of back strengthening or yoga. My follow up appointment is in 3 weeks. I trust my surgeon, however - I know that back conditions are, typically, a lifetime deal and I understand how delicate the healing process of back surgery is. My biggest fear is pushing anything too soon and compromising the surgery in any way, or re-injuring my back, or making it worst. So, that's why I want to talk to all of you who have gone through this kind of thing and get real experiences. How long until you felt comfortable working out? (Running, Swimming laps, etc.)

    Also, I was told it was good for the healing process to start taking short walks and gradually increasing the distance. I took a very, very short walk today (to the end of a long drive way). I just don't want to do anything too early. Cause, I feel pretty good, but I don't want to push anything.

    I really, really appreciate all comments/ shared experiences/ advice from all of you who have personally experienced back surgery and recovery. Please, please keep it coming!

  • yes! that is exactly the surgery I had. Thank-you so much. Everything you said is very helpful.

    Did you do any physical therapy post-op?
  • Thank-you for all of the advice.

    I had a microdiscectomy. Super short, minimally invasive & to the point.

    Did you do any physical therapy post operation?
  • Welcome to Spine Health. This is a great community of folks with experiences that will blow your mind if you let them. One thing that can be difficult on this site, is to keep things in perspective. When you receive replies from someone, it is really difficult to know just exactly what their injury was and how it compares to yours etc. Every surgeon has a unique style and experiences and their recovery recommendations will be influenced by not only that, but their personal assessment of your spine and your physical conditioning and your injury.

    I completely understand the need to get personal experiences from others who have "been there done that got the tee shirt", but please be careful in allowing those to influence how you view the instructions given to you by your surgeon. happyHBmom is right, your surgeon should be your most trusted reference in your recovery inquiry.

    It sounds like you are doing great in your recovery so far. Being young generally tends to show favor in regards to healing and bouncing back from surgery and injury.

    Keep us posted on how you are doing.

    Kindest Regards

  • Meg...you sound very wise. I am so glad you are talking to your surgeon but also doing your homework. I was told the same thing by my surgeon after the 1st surgery. Driving was ok when I was off pain meds. But I think what I missed was how seriously I should take the no bending, twisting, or lifting rule. I think Driving jostled me around and work had me pushing myself more than I should have.

    Granted, it's all very personal so you have to definitely consult your physician.

    I did go to PT after my 6 weeks appt. You should ask your surgeon about it. Some say you may not need it but personally, I would push for it. PT showed me how to properly stretch in the event i was sore and they also showed me tips on how to build core muscle strength back by safely keeping my spine aligned. I was very active and knew most of the tips but it was so good to have a trained PT spine specialist observe and correct me for a few weeks.

    Your surgeon should be your trusted reference but I think these boards do a nice job of offering you things to discuss with your surgeon. Surgeons are human. My surgeon always welcomed my questions.
  • I did; my surgeons insisted upon aquatic PT.

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    Post Edited by Moderator Dave

    On the sunny and mild Central Coast of California

    L4-L5 endoscopic transforaminal microdiscectomy June, 2007
    L5-S1 endoscopic transforaminal microdiscectomy May, 2008
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