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What Happens after a Microdiscectomy?

By Amanda Barnhart
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Patients undergo microdiscectomy surgery to correct a herniated disc that might press on or pinch the sciatic nerve, leading to pain in the lower back, hip and leg. This surgery usually is very successful, but the outcome depends largely on how well a patient cares for himself or herself after a microdiscectomy. Healing and recovery times for this spine surgery vary depending on the patient's overall health, how well he or she follows the doctor's directions for postoperative care and his or her strength and fitness level. The body starts the healing process almost immediately after surgery and continues to heal over the next several months. Patients often experience pain, stiffness and difficulty moving around after a microdiscectomy.

Pain after a microdiscectomy is very common, but it usually subsides considerably within two to three weeks. Immediately after surgery, microdiscectomy patients often receive narcotic pain medications in combination with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help control pain. Ice therapy helps relieve swelling and discomfort, particularly in the first two days after surgery. A microdiscectomy patient can use ice packs for 20 minutes every one to two hours during the first days after surgery to help alleviate pain.

Narcotic pain medications typically are not needed after about two weeks. At this point, the patient can begin treating the pain with over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen. Ice therapy might continue for several more weeks, though it usually is needed only a few times a day rather than every hour or two.

Most patients go through several weeks of physical therapy after a microdiscectomy to help keep them mobile and to stretch the tissues around the surgical site, which promotes healing and helps prevent scarring. Gentle lower back stretches performed while the patient lies on his or her back are generally done several times a day for two to four months to minimize scarring and promote flexibility in the lower back and hips. Strengthening exercises are another important component of a rehabilitation program after a microdiscectomy. These exercises usually are performed under the supervision of a physical therapist at first and then at home to continue the recovery process.

Emotional changes and difficulties are common after a microdiscectomy. Patients often feel tired, lethargic and depressed in the first days and weeks after the procedure. It is important for patients to discuss these symptoms with their doctors, because medications or therapy might be necessary. Eating a healthy diet, performing stretches and exercises as assigned, keeping a positive attitude and focusing on the progress of recovery can help alleviate these problems.

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Discussion Comments
By Lostnfound — On Aug 24, 2014

My doctor thought I had a herniated disk, but I did a lot of physical therapy and I haven't had any more problems. She said she wanted to do that in case it was something that didn't absolutely need surgery. I was all for it because I didn't want to have surgery unless I had to. I did a lot of PT for about eight weeks, and the pain disappeared! My doc said maybe the nerve was just pinched a little, and NSAIDs and the PT helped my body heal.

By Grivusangel — On Aug 23, 2014

My mom had this surgery and did very well. She has arthritis in her back, so that pain wasn't completely alleviated, but her leg certainly felt better and some of her back pain went away, too.

She knew something was wrong because she had never had leg pain, or a leg injury, but just started having a lot of pain in her left leg. She went to see a back surgeon, and he did a CT scan and X-rays, and determined she had a herniated disk.

He did surgery and in a couple of weeks, she said she could really tell a difference in the pain level in her leg. She said it was much, much better than it had been.

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