If you have back pain or sciatica due to a herniated disc, there are different treatments to try in order to get relief. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy and exercise. Chiropractic care may be initiated, or steroid injections may be used to manage the inflammation that occurs with a herniated disc.
If your pain is persistent and unremitting after conservative treatment, you may need to consult with a neurosurgeon to consider surgery for your herniated disc. The goal of surgery is to remove disc material that may be pinching on your spinal nerves. This helps to relieve your pain and improve your mobility.
When considering surgery, you should know that there are different surgical approaches. Some doctors use a traditional approach that involves a large incision and an open surgical field. This requires that you surgeon dissect your lumbar muscles away from your bone to visualize your disc and to remove the herniation that is pinching on your nerves.
Minimally Invasive Surgery for Herniated Disc
Some neurosurgeons utilize a specialized approach to surgery for a herniated disc called minimally invasive spine surgery. During this procedure, a small incision is made and specialized instruments are used to visualize and cut away your herniated disc.
Your lumbar muscles remain intact during minimally invasive spine surgery, and only small portals are made in the tissue to introduce the surgical instruments. The benefit of minimally invasive spine surgery is that it may lessen your herniated disc surgery recovery time.
Since a small incision is made, many patients report less pain and greater mobility after the surgery. Your back muscles remain largely intact during the procedure, meaning that you can quickly return to your previous activity without the need for extensive rehabilitation.
Since minimally invasive spine surgery for herniated disc requires a small incision, there is also less blood loss and less risk of infection during the procedure. These expected benefits mean that you can quickly get back to your lifestyle after surgery.
So what is the herniated disc surgery recovery time? What can you expect from surgery and from the recovery period? Learning all you can about your surgery and the expected herniated disc recovery time can help you be prepared for your procedure and for your to return to your active lifestyle.
Herniated Disc Surgery Recovery Time
When considering surgery for your herniated disc, be sure to work closely with your neurosurgeon so you understand the procedure and approach used and know what is expected of you. Your doctor should be able to explain the details of your surgery and answer your questions about the procedure.
Many doctors have their surgical patients attend a pre-operative education session. During this session, you will learn about your surgery and how to prepare for it. Topics discussed may include:
- Typical herniated disc surgery recovery time
- Different healthcare professionals at the hospital
- The type of diagnostic and surgical equipment used during surgery
- How your post-operative pain will be managed
- A live or virtual tour of the hospital or surgical center
Be sure to ask questions during this session if you have any, and let your doctor or nurse know if you feel like you need more information about your surgery.
On your surgery day, you will report to the surgical center or hospital at an assigned time. Your doctor should give you pre-op instructions to follow. Be sure you follow these instructions carefully; eating or drinking before your surgery will be prohibited.
When you arrive, your surgical team will take your vital signs and start and IV line. Your doctor will meet with you to see how you are doing and to review the surgery one last time. Then, you will be brought to the operating room, and general anesthesia will be administered.
When you wake up in the recovery room you will be sleepy and a bit disoriented. Your doctors will check on your vital signs and your neurological status and treat your pain. He or she will also check your surgical incision for any signs of infection or problems. When you are more awake you may be transferred to a hospital room or another quieter recovery area.
If you have had a minimally invasive microdiscectomy, the goal will usually be to get you back home. First you will get out of bed and sit in a chair or walk to the bathroom.
As you feel better, you can begin walking up and down the hospital corridor. You will be given some food. If you can walk with your pain controlled, urinate, and keep food down, usually you can go home. IF you have had an open microdiscectomy typically you will be admitted overnight for observation regardless of your progress.
The First Week after Herniated Disc Surgery
While at home, you will need to be cautious about your movements. Be sure to maintain proper posture when sitting and standing, and avoid heavy lifting or frequent forward bending. You must protect your back so that it can heal properly.
You will be encouraged to slowly increase your activity level during the first week of recovery after surgery for a herniated disc. Walking is a great exercise after surgery as it helps to improve aerobic endurance and promote circulation in your body.
During the week following surgery, you will be expected to slowly increase your activity level while providing moderate protection for your back by avoiding bending, lifting and slouched sitting. You should continue to remain out of work during the first week of your herniated disc surgery recovery time.
Slowly increase your activity level and watch your incision for redness, swelling or discharge which may be signs of infection. By the end of the first week, you should visit your doctor who will check your incision and monitor your symptoms.
Three Weeks After Surgery
During the three week period in the herniated disc surgery recovery time, you should consider returning to work if your job is sedentary. If you work in an office, you should be aware of proper posture and work to maintain a neutral position for your spine while sitting or standing.
If your job requires heavy work, your doctor may recommend remaining out of work for a few more weeks.
Continue increasing your walking and activity tolerance with a goal of returning to everyday light activity by the end of three weeks. You may begin a light course of physical therapy if you need to, but some patients who undergo minimally invasive spine surgery enjoy a rapid recovery with no need for formal post-operative rehabilitation.
You should feel close to fully recovered after surgery by the fourth week. At that time you can slowly get back to your normal day-to-day activity with a full return to high intensity activity by the sixth to eighth week.
If you are facing surgery for a herniated disc, you should find a trusted neurosurgeon who can help guide you through the recovery process. Understanding what to expect after surgery can help you focus on your complete recovery and help you quickly and safely return to your previous level of function and activity.