I, like everyone else, have done endless research/reading as I prepared for and am still recovering from a L5/S1 microdiscectomy. Although there are positive stories, they seem to be far outnumbered by negative experiences. Although I'm still very early in my recovery and cannot yet declare it successful (knock on wood!) I do feel I'm on the right track, barring a setback, and wanted to share my story.
I don't want to dwell too much on how I got here. Suffice it to say it was years of bad posture, too much sitting (office job), and bad weightlifting form and philosophy (huge/strong upper body) without corresponding strengthening of core and lower back. My L5/S1 inevitably herniated and a big piece of nucleus squeezed through and impinged my S1 nerve root.
I was in varying levels of pain/discomfort for 6 months prior to surgery. Slight numbness but mostly just pain all the way down my right leg. Could not sit, struggled to stand at work all day, layed down all night as soon as I got home. Tried PT, acupuncture, meds (anti-inflams, pain), 3 ESIs (they all helped a little). Probably got about 50-60% improvement from original symptoms but it wasn't enough.
I had an Ortho do all the conservative treatment but switched to a Neuro when I knew it was time to consider surgery. He's well recognized as a top Neuro in the Atlanta area but not great at Q&A and post op rehab. Anyways we decided on micro-d and did it on 12/1/11.
Surgery was routine with no complications, at least none I'm aware of but then again I was stone-cold out before even being wheeled into the op room. Since they used a catheter, regaining control of my bladder afterwards was difficult but fortunately I was able to "force" it to work after considerable effort. Stool softners are important since it can take awhile (days in fact for me) for the bowels to "wake up" post-surgery and all the pain meds don't help the cause. I was walking grandpa style around the hospital that day (5-10 min periodic walks) but realize now I was very hopped up on pain meds. Discharged the next morning.
Since I've been home here are my observations on recovery. A bit depressing at first (post-surgery blues and all). For the first 2 weeks, it's tough to know what pain was/is surgery-related and what is the old sciatica (simply taking pressure off the nerve does not mean immediate relief, it can take weeks to months for the nerve to recover, not to mention the impact on the nerve as the surgeon yanks it around to free it up during the op). Standing in one place gets me sore as does walking for too long. I was getting wonderful "zingers" the first week whenever I did something awkward (getting in car on ride home, first time getting in my bed, walking too fast, stairs, etc.). Doc says it's the nerve stretching and is normal but it does hurt like heck and probably made me more cautious than I needed to be. They come on fast but leave just as quickly. I do still get goofy feelings sometimes but all minor (hip soreness, bruised feeling behind the knee, calf pings, buttocks muscle spasm, etc.)
Walking is key and the biggest thing I was trying to figure out. Everyone says walk (to strengthen & recover), but how much? I spent the 1st week shuffling around the inside of the house at 10-15 min every hour. The 2nd week I started walking outside, doing 1/4 mile loops 3-4x per day. Now, I'm up to 2-3 miles per day in 1/2 to 1 mile increments. Feels good. Uphills can still make me sore so trying to keep it flat. I have noticed the sciatica receding. I still get sorness when I push it but it's better than anytime pre-op and I'm hopeful it will entirely go away in time.
Anyway, I've droned on long enough. Bottom line is things are progessing well. I never had surgery before (let alone spine surgery) and totally underestimated the recovery (actually thought I'd return to my office job the next week, lol). I now know it will be a long road, both to return to normal activity, and prevent future injury but I'm committed to it, and I will stand more and the 185lb military presses and 90 lb barbell curls will need to stop. Hope this post helps gives people another view on the surgery and best of luck.