When a patient is suffering from a herniated disc that does not respond to conservative treatment, we frequently turn to microdiscectomy. A herniated disc puts pressure on the nerves, and this can cause sciatica pain, weakness in the legs, numbness and relentless pain, and the microdiscectomy procedure removes herniated tissue, providing almost instant relief.
The surgery is minimally invasive, which means that the surgical incisions are tiny and the surgical tools that are used are small as well. There is far less insult to the body, as muscles and tissues are not cut, and recovery is far faster.
Despite the fact that the procedure is specifically designed to minimize down time, many patients looking forward to the surgery tell us of their plans to “lay low”. They anticipate having to take long periods of time away from work and their normal activities, and speak of plans for household help for extended periods of time.
Though we certainly ask our patients to restrict their activities immediately following their microdiscectomy surgeries, we also encourage them to move around, and to engage in reasonable levels of moderate physical activity in order to facilitate a faster recovery and return to normal.
Studies have shown that patients who get out and take walks or swim tend to recover faster, and have less formation of scar tissue. In fact, a clinical study published in the journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders reported that patients who didn’t limit themselves in their activities were able to return to work faster than those who limited their activities.
So what does that mean?
There are certainly activities that we warn our patients not to consider engaging in for the first several days after their surgery. Patients should avoid twisting and bending, and they should not lift anything heavier than 5 pounds for a period of at least two weeks.
Patients should not carry groceries, sweep or shovel, vacuum or do the laundry. But they should also do as much moving as they can to maintain mobility, and should avoid sitting on the couch for too long.
A good rule of thumb is to start by walking around the house for the first day or two, then venture outside and walk slightly longer distances each day. The goal is to work up to being able to walk for a period of half an hour to an hour each day, and you should also be able to engage in other similarly gentle exercises such as riding a stationary bike or swimming.
With reference to other activities, driving can generally be resumed once you are not taking any pain medication and feel able to turn your head and look over your shoulder without pain. The same is true for returning to work, though much depends on what your work duties entail.
These recommendations are general: each patient is different and will be given their own recommendations specific to their physical condition and surgery. For more information on whether this procedure can help you, contact our office to set up an appointment.