About 2 weeks after lumbar microdiscectomy, most patients begin to experience significantly less pain and higher energy level. A gradual return to more low impact activities is encouraged. Contact sports, heavy lifting, and other strenuous activities may still be avoided.
Light physical activity is important for tissue healing and regaining strength in the lower back.
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Activity Restrictions to Prevent Reinjury
Bending, twisting, and lifting may still be discouraged during this stage of recovery after lumbar microdiscectomy surgery. However, some doctors may permit a return to these movements sooner. Limited research suggests that bending, lifting, and twisting 2 weeks after lumbar microdiscectomy does not increase the risk for re-injury or another herniation. 1 Bono CM, Leonard DA, Cha TD et al. The effect of short (2-weeks) versus long (6-weeks) post-operative restrictions following lumbar discectomy: a prospective randomized control trial. Eur Spine J. 2017;26(3):905-12. doi: 10.1007/s00586-016-4821-9
Because some pain and fatigue will still be present during this period, physically demanding jobs, such as those that require an adequate amount of standing or lifting, should be avoided. Sports, especially contact sports, are also typically not allowed for 6 weeks or longer. 2 Cook RW, Hsu WK. Return to play after lumbar spine surgery. Clinics in Sports Medicine. 35(4):609-19. doi: 10.1016/j.csm.2016.05.006
Low-Impact Exercises Help Promote Better Tissue Healing
In addition to walking more, light stretching and gentle exercises may be advised to aid tissue healing. Some surgeons may recommend starting a physical therapy program under the guidance of a trained professional prior to the 6-week mark, but others may prefer the patient waits until at least 6 weeks post-surgery.
It is important to check with the surgeon before starting any new exercises or stretches. If any type of movement increases pain, it is advisable to refrain from that movement as the body continues recovering.
Everyday Activities that May be Resumed
Between 2 and 6 weeks, most activities of daily living may be resumed.
If pain levels are well managed without opioids, the doctor may permit a return to driving. Most patients return to driving about 2 weeks after the procedure, but it can take longer if problems with pain, coordination, or fatigue persist.
Returning to work that involves light-duty or being seated for most of the time, such as a desk job, may be permitted after 2 to 4 weeks. When resuming work, it may be advisable to start working a half-day schedule initially before returning full time.
The seated position typically increases stress on the lower back more than other postures. To help relieve these stresses, it is critical that a person does not sit continually for an extended duration of time. Taking short walks and/or stretching for a few minutes every 30 minutes to an hour can help relieve pressure on the lower back.
Lumbar microdiscectomy surgery patients can typically return to most daily activities by 6 weeks after surgery. Some patients may take considerably longer depending on their rate of healing, age, and general physical and mental health.
- 1 Bono CM, Leonard DA, Cha TD et al. The effect of short (2-weeks) versus long (6-weeks) post-operative restrictions following lumbar discectomy: a prospective randomized control trial. Eur Spine J. 2017;26(3):905-12. doi: 10.1007/s00586-016-4821-9
- 2 Cook RW, Hsu WK. Return to play after lumbar spine surgery. Clinics in Sports Medicine. 35(4):609-19. doi: 10.1016/j.csm.2016.05.006