Flexibility issues after L5-S1 Micro

       Hello, I am new to this forum and am excited to get some advice from you all! I am a 21 year old male who has been in excellent health, until I suffered a herniated disc on the L5-S1 level. I am not 100 percent sure what caused the herniation but I do suspect the work as being the culprit, frequent heavy lifts and twisting. The most unfortunate part of my story is that I am also a full-time student and the job I plan on getting once I graduate requires you to be in tip-top shape. The surgery option, much like most of us, was my last resort. I tried PT for a month which was no help and also received several injections that only relieved pain for a day. After living with the low back pain and sciatica for a year, I decided to discuss a micro with my neurologist. I ended up having the surgery just after finals last semester in December. Pain after the surgery was okay, the only area that I felt a ton of pain in was where he went in. The follow up was one month after the surgery and by then I felt great, little to no sciatica pain down my right leg and the back pain was eliminated. He cleared me to go back to work without having physical therapy which I felt was odd. He said "your very young and are not having too many issues, take an easy for the first couple of weeks back into work and do not lift like a power-lifter and you should be fine". After returning to work I would occasionally have days where I felt like I must of re-herniated my disc, but the symptoms would sub-side and I would be fine again. About two weeks after my surgery, I started doing my own stretches at home, started very easy and now I am at a point where I stretch twice a day everyday. However, I am having some issues. I still can not bend over and touch my toes, before my disc herniation I could place my palms on the floor no problem. Currently, the farthest I can go forward is my to me knees, my body just simply stops at that point. I also can not sit at 90 degree angle, by right leg won't stay straight.  I still experience some pain from my nerve when I stretch. For an example, If get on all fours and arc my back up and pull my head to my chest my nerve immediately lights up and sends pain down my leg. The weird thing is that I can do straight leg raises from a laying position, nearly to a 90 degree. Before surgery, the best I could do is around 30 degrees.  It has been almost three months since my surgery. I am typically a very positive person and have tried to stay very positive, but I cant help but to question my abilities after going through this.   

Here are my questions

Will I ever be able to touch my toes again? If not, I have wasted three years of my life going to college to get my dream job. Touching your toes is a basic physical assessment.

Have any of you had any success in re-gaining your flexibility? If so, how long did it take and what stretches/exercises helped? 

Lastly, should I just go see a private physical therapist to stretch me out or maybe visit my doctor again?  

Thanks to all that have taken the time out of their day to read my post!





  • WLLadyWLLady Ontario CanadaPosts: 844


    I had 10 levels fused in 2016, so not even remotely in the same category as your surgery.  BUT with that said, with ANY surgery to the back there are a ton of little muscles that get very damaged, and they take forever to heal-and they can firmly clamp down and affect flexibility - so much that for the first 6 weeks i couldn't sit without leaning on my elbows-and my boarding house table reach was to the middle of my plate LOL.....I couldn't imagine not getting physio after any kind of back surgery, so guess if it were me i'd talk with the doctor and get cleared for physio and then find a good physio to help you learn and reteach your body how to move-and how to do it safely so you don't hurt things again.  I've been in physio about a year now, and i cannot tell you how much it's helped.  without it i would not be even close to where i'm at today.   I'm still seeing improvements after 15 months post surgery. 

    You haven't wasted time.  if you are not fused from L5-S1 you should be able to get there sometime-because a lot of that bending is from L1-L4 and not just L5-S.  do you have cages?  or did they just remove part of the disc? 

    It is also possible that scar tissue is preventing the movement-a PT can also assess that.  with my long fusion i was getting horrible pain around my ribs, and surgeon checked all the screws etc, all fine, and my massage therapist did some scar tissue release on some scar tissue along my incision and all of a sudden i lost that rib pain.  same thing further down my back, i couldn't lift my arm up over my head, and he broke up 2 big adhesions from the incision and viola....not saying that's what is happening, just that that's what happened to me.....

    don't EVER lose sight of your dreams.  you'll make it happen....but with your back please talk with your doctor and get some PT help-they will understand the challenges, and then help you get where you need/want to be. 

  •   Thanks for your reply! The doctor went into my back where the herniation was and removed it, no cages. The herniation was not super huge (I do not know the exact size), however, he said that the surgery would have been my only choice. This is because the disc had wrapped itself around one of my nerves and when I would do simple task like walk or stand, the nerve would become inflamed from being in such an awkward position and cause my symptoms. The goal of the surgery was to remove the disc fragment and then hope that the scar tissue from the surgery would build up enough to stabilize the rest of the disc in that level. I agree that, anyone who has has back surgery should go to PT afterwards. I do believe that I have lost a considerable amount of muscle on the right side of my lower back. I am definitely not going to give up on myself, I am just disappointed a little bit I guess. If I do not see any flexibility gains within the next month from doing my exercises/stretches , I will take a weeks vacation from work and go see a private physical therapist. I will avoid seeing one at the hospital again, pre-surgery PT was useless. The therapist would give me a sheet of paper containing some stretches/exercises and send me on my way, no real instruction. Thanks for posting and I hope that you start to feel better soon, any injury to the back stinks!  

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  • I had L4/5 microdiscectomy in 2008. Over time I could touch my toes.  I took It easy for a while after the surgery but did try to keep moving - more walking, less sitting.   

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