Here's my recovery story so far.
I hope this is encouraging for anyone looking to hear someone else's experience. I know I was searching the forum when I was in my first few weeks post op looking for hope and courage! I had been struggling with back pain for 3 years which grew steadily worse especially between February and July pre-op this summer.
I'm 12 weeks post op today after L5/S1 microdiscectomy for a sequestered disc and severe sciatic pain causing complete immobility plus 100% loss of foot raise on left.
I had really successful surgery and was allowed home the next day after the surgery. I didn't need any more pain meds after the second night as the sciatic pain had diminished so much I only had some slight incision site pain. So I stopped taking co-codamol (Apparently the surgeon's can flush the incision site with steroids and antibiotics before suturing so the area feels much more comfortable for a few days initially post op).
In hindsight I probably suffered withdrawal flue like symptoms as I had been on maximum doses of Co-codamol for 4 weeks pre-op when my pain levels went off the charts and I couldn't move.
I was really stiff and being very careful about bending, lifting our reaching. I didn't pick up any of any weight up at all and spent most of my first 2 weeks either laying down, standing or slow careful walking. I walked everyday increasing up to about a quarter/half a mile on even surfaces.
I was so disappointed 2 weeks post op as it felt like all the sciatic nerve pain returned in quite high intensity after a 2 week window of little to no sciatic pain just some mild surgery site discomfort and twingy sciatic feelings. At 2 weeks I was back on co-codamol and paracetamol again at quite high doses. I even wondered if I had re-herniated.
My surgeon was very reassuring and said the pain often comes back a couple of days after surgery and it's very normal especially if you had intense pain pre-op. Which I had had.
Physio was also very reassuring at 4 weeks post op. Again saying the pain would diminish and the right exercise was key to my rehab. After advice from my Physio I started swimming at 5 weeks.
My first swim was a gentle slow meander for about 2 laps (at 5 weeks), more of a float really.
I flew 5000 miles, a 20 hr journey with a 10 hr flight followed by a 2 hr flight, at 6 weeks after my surgeon's approval. I stood up and walked around the plane for at least 4 hrs of the flight and took pain meds. Not suprisingly this aggravated the nerve some and I was in much more pain for a week afterwards and that's when I really started my regular lap swimming and that's when the sciatic pain began to diminish significantly.
After my flights about 10 days later I swam 12 laps gently. Everything felt great so I swam 22 laps a few days later. Then a few days after that I swam 40 laps and my pain level dropped significantly.
This really boosted my hope for being pain free again.
In the past 4 weeks I've been swimming about 40-60 laps front crawl, back stroke and breast stroke 4-5 times a weeks and my comfort level and strength is increasing really quickly and pain is diminishing every day.
For me I have found swimming to make a huge difference to the speed of my recovery.
I'm 12 weeks post op and feeling great. The swimming has reduced my sciatic pain considerably and continues to do so. I haven't taken any pain meds for two weeks.
I was pretty fit before the operation but had not swam for several years. Swimming is going to replace running for me from now on I think.
I have found that by avoiding sitting and either walking, laying flat (stomach or back or up on elbows) or standing I reduce inflaming the nerve any more allowing it to heal. I guess the swimming is strengthening my whole frame, stretching my muscles, moving my nerve and taking nutrients/fluids to the nerve and discs and other tissues helping them to heal too.
It's really helping me.
I'm starting to not even have to think about pain meds and even beginning to sit down without thinking too much about it for short periods.
My ability to do left foot raises, I think it's called plantar flexion started coming back at about 5 weeks and is now back to full strength. I've nearly got all my feeling back under my foot on the outside and behind my thigh (the numbness has gone).
So my sciatic nerve is healing really well. Just some residual pain in my left glutes, so I avoid sitting!! If I do sit for any length the sciatic pain does increase again and affect further down into my thigh or even calf.
My muscles in my thoracic spine are a bit tender sometimes which I think is because they are over compensating as I protect and am careful about my lower back until it's mobility returns.
I've continued to lie flat on the back seat whilst driving whenever I can be driven and this really helps me.
I know the particular Tuesday after swimming those 22 laps for the first time when my pain diminished significantly I just had the complete confidence that I would heal fully. It was like there was a switch in my thinking.
I know that regaining my Hope in a full recovery has been the real key for me.
I read somewhere else to measure your recovery by the month not daily or even weekly. I think that is good advice.
I've still got some way to go to be totally flexible and pain free again along my sciatic nerve and through my back and hamstrings etc but it's happening.
I'm going to start trying some pilates classes - at the back of the class doing a few appropriate exercises very gently and carefully to add to my swimming. I'm also trying to get a full body massage every few weeks too.
I'm incredibly thankful to be able to walk again and live pretty normally again.
Even difficult times like the past 4 months have taught me so much especially about appreciating the everyday things and especially about appreciating people.
Keep believing - you'll get better - bodies are designed to heal, I just needed to learn to listen to what my pain was telling me about my life and get the help to make the necessary changes.