Exercise can play a key role in recovering from lumbar microdiscectomy surgery. While it is important to follow the surgeon’s directions regarding activity restrictions, research suggests that an early return to specific exercises after microdiscectomy under guidance from a licensed therapist may benefit the recovery process.1 Starting a muscle-strengthening program within 6 weeks of microdiscectomy surgery may help people reduce pain and return to work sooner.2
Walking for Exercise After Microdiscectomy
Walking is encouraged as a way to get moving as soon as possible after microdiscectomy surgery. This type of exercise is gentle on the back, helps improve overall fitness, and keeps the muscles flexible.
Typically, patients are advised to begin with short walks and gradually work up to a few miles. When walking shortly after surgery, it is important to stay on flat surfaces rather than sloped or uneven ground. Some patients may prefer to use a walker or cane if balance is an issue.
Applying ice therapy and/or taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, after walking may help alleviate the discomfort sometimes associated with an increase in activity after back surgery.
Gradually Adding Exercises After Microdiscectomy
Walking and light stretching are the main exercises typically recommended during the first 2 weeks following microdiscectomy surgery. When the surgeon starts reducing activity restrictions, generally between 2 and 6 weeks following surgery, more exercises and stretches can gradually be added, as tolerated by the patient.
An early focus may be on stretching the hamstrings, which can become tight after a microdiscectomy. Later, more exercises may be incorporated to help strengthen the core muscles that stabilize the spine, including long muscles in the back (erector spinae).
Exercise Goals After Microdiscectomy
Depending on the person’s recovery goals, a back-strengthening or physical therapy program can be tailored to meet individual needs. The recommended exercises and stretches may depend on whether a person plans to return to a desk job or something more active, such as physical labor or competitive sports.
The goals typically include:
- To use ergonomically correct postures while sitting and lifting objects
- To stretch and strengthen the lower back and leg muscles
- To improve the range of motion in the lower back and legs
Recommended exercises and modifications to exercises may also depend on the patient’s overall health, rate of recovery, and pain levels.
Activity Restrictions to Remember
Many surgeons still recommend following activity restrictions for at least the first 2 weeks after microdiscectomy:
- No bending at the waist
- No lifting items that weigh more than 8 pounds (a gallon of milk)
- No twisting the spine
While finding ways to perform stretches and return to normal activities shortly after microdiscectomy, it is important to keep these restrictions in mind and not worsen the pain. It is also recommended that patients get plenty of rest and not push themselves too hard. Trying to perform activities while fatigued or on strong medications could increase the risk of a fall or other type of injury.
Read more about Postoperative Care for Lumbar Microdiscectomy Surgery
Every patient’s situation is different, so it is advisable to consult with the surgeon about the recommended activity restrictions.