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Recovery after Lumbar Discectomy

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,000
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:23 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
This is my first post, and I am hoping to get some clarity as to how to proceed. After 15+ years of managing a periodically bulging L5 disc through chiropractic and massge therapy, I was finally told that I needed surgery which was performed about 2 weeks ago. My symptoms were intense low back pain, pain initially in my right leg, then spreading to both legs and loss of strength and numbness in my right leg and foot. An MRI revealed a seriously ruptured disc with a considerable amount of material pressing against the nerve. I had been trying to use chiropractic adjustments for about a month, but the symptoms kept getting worse to the point where I could barely walk.
THe procedure I had was a Laminectomy, L4/5 discectomy and a facetectomy. I was able to walk (very slowly) the next day.

Anyway, after 2 weeks I am more mobile and the numbness and noticeable weakness seems to have lessened. When I visited my surgeon 1 week post-op and inquired about Physical Therapy, his response was "you don't need that.." He put me on disability for 4 weeks and told me to go home and try to so some light exercises every day.

Well, the first week I noticed continued improvement (from my pre-op state) but this past week, I have begun experiencing a recurrence of the numbness in my foot (it comes and goes), fairly intense low back pain (generally if I sit for any period of time) and occasional spasms in my legs. The back pain has sometimes increased to the degree that I had to use my prescribed percocets (rather than the extra strength Tylenol which I prefer.)

Before the operation, I was very run down physically from a number of factors and I still feel very weak at times. It would seem to me that the logical course of action would be to undertake PT to strengthen the muscles that support (what's left of) my spine. So my thought is to have a consultation with a Physiatrist (at another hospital) and try to get myself into a rehab program, otherwise I am afraid that I am going to go back to work (I sit at a desk 8-9 hours a day) last 2-3 days and be out again. Also, I do not relish the thought of another surgery, so I am hesitant to return to my surgeon with my issues.

I would appreciate input from anyone who has been through a similar situation and any recommendations you may have.




  • Hello George, and welcome.
    Sorry to see you were yet another victim of chiropractic.
    Same thing happened to me.

    I want to relate about the tiredness.
    It's been about 5 months since my last procedure.
    My surgeons are very pro-PT. Foolishly, I did not do it this second time around.
    When I wash dishes, my lower back muscles fatigue.
    Yesterday I went to a large mall here in Los Angeles.
    Walked the entire floor and the back muscles fatigued.

    My cardio is good, I don't get winded, I ride my bike for about an hour every night. It's the lower back muscles that need toning.

    On the sunny and mild Central Coast of California

    L4-L5 endoscopic transforaminal microdiscectomy June, 2007
    L5-S1 endoscopic transforaminal microdiscectomy May, 2008
  • First of all, fire your doctor. Anyone who tells a patient they don't need PT after having back surgery has no clue!!

    If that Dr. won't recommend PT then find someone who will. I've never heard of such a crazy idiotic statement as that. Whether the Dr thinks it or not, any back surgery is still pretty major surgery. You absolutely NEED some kind of PT. I started from my one week mark and went twice or three times per week for 8 weeks.

    The PT will teach you stretches, exercises, etc.. definitely stuff that you need to be performing on a daily basis so hopefully this never happens again.

    Take care, and get to PT!! :))(

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  • Hi George,

    I hope you are getting better. I had a lamectomy/disectomy on October 1. I tried anti-inflammatory medicine for a couple of months, physical therapy, then had an epidural. When the epidural wore off (about 6 weeks) the pain in my left leg pain was so unbearable I had to stop work and could only lay on my stomach for the next 2 weeks. I never had pain in the right leg. I took vicodin every 4 hours to keep sane. I decided to get surgery rather than go for another epidural. Turned out the disk ruptured and a large piece was compressing the nerve.

    After the surgery, my leg pain was bearable - but still bad. It is now slowly improving - possible because I started taking Meloxiam, an anti-inflammatory, my surgeon prescribed about 9 days ago. I am still very troubled by my gait - it is uneven. I feel like my spine is no longer aligned since the surgery. When I walk, it feels like one leg is longer than the other and I waddle somewhat and am afraid I may cause more damage to my spine. I am using a cane which helps. My surgeon told me to go back for more physical therapy which I will be doing, I thought I would wait for the pain in my leg to get a little better first. I am surprised your surgeon didn't prescribe PT. It is important to know what exercises to do to strengthen your back.

    The whole recovery process for me has been harder than I expected. One minute the pain is light- the next minute it can really hurt. Pain patches and tylenol have helped. I have also been using a cane which helps me keep better balance, but am anxious to start walking more without it. I am wondering if I will ever be able to walk normally, without the limp. I would like to hear from others who have had this surgery and about their recovery and how you are doing as well.

  • I had a lumber discectomy on November 5th. I also had many of your same symptoms. Lower back pain, shooting pains down both legs, lower back spasms, all related to a ATC accident I had 25 years ago. I also did the chiropractor, physical therapy and finally the epidural shots, I did two rounds of those with relief but the last set was only 6 weeks of releif. So I was off to see another Spine Dr. and had surgery. I had a ruptured disc L4 L5 and my spine was 98% blocked. It was the best thing I have done. The first week was the worst. I just laid in bed and rested. Then the second week I moved to the couch to rest. I also walked 2-3 times a day for 3-5 minutes. Then the third week I was great. Every day was 50% better than the day before. Now six week out I haven't felt this good in a long time. I have minor pain if I do to much. But totally off pain meds completely. I am in physical therapy for 4 weeks and doing great. I hope this helps there is light at the end of the tunnel. When you nerves start to wake that does cause some pain. I did have that also. But is has since passed. I would definitely get into physical therapy, it help with the strengthening the muscles around your spine.
  • My husband just had the lubar discectomy two days ago. The PT says especially when doing dishes, open the cupboard up and place one foot at a time on the low shelf and alternate feet. She said that straightness/position that you get butting up against the sink will put your back into a compromise position. Hope this info helps!
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  • My husband just had this surgery two days ago. The information sheet that we had got said that there is a 5-10% chance of re rupture of disc materioal from the inside the disc to outside the disc requiring another surgery. That must have been what happened to you :-( So far, I'm pleased with the progress he's having.

    He had and outpatient procedure done approx one year ago that recovery was horrible (they had uses some type of telesopic thing and went through muscles) He had intense pain and severe lightning bolts of pain frequently.

    The recovery with this discectomy has been way better so far!
  • My recovery was a little different.
    I had same surgery on L5-S1.
    I was told for the 1st 2 weeks, to just lie flat and get up every hour to walk a little bit. I was told increasing walking no more than 10%/day.

    Absolutely not bending, twisting, or lifting. This meant no taking dishes out of dishwasher or laundry out of dryer.

    At 2 weeks, I didn't get feeling back but pain was getting a little better. I was told same thing but to be cautious on increasing walking and still no bending/twisting and do not lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk and nothing over my head.

    PT was supposed to be at week 6. They only wanted me walking until then.

    Unfortunately I went back on pain meds/muscle relaxers/ibuprofin in week 3 and never really got relief on numbness and/or leg pain.

    I told the doctor and it concerned him so he put me on prednisone in hopes that the incision was just inflamed. But that didn't work.

    So at week 10 he ordered another MRI b/c he was concerned i reherniated the disc. I did.

    I do not necessarily think this is what happened but I do think you need to let your surgeon know what's going on so he can suggest how to proceed the next 4 weeks.
  • You are right about % chance of recurrence.
    And when it happens it is within the 1st 3 months while the incision is healing.

    From what I understand, what keeps additional disc mass from 'coming out' is scar tissue forming against the disc.

    There is a chance of reherniation or a 2nd free floating piece (out of site) that comes out before scar tissue forms.

    I guess the stats are really in the 10% range and typically same side.

    I am the statistic. When I was contacting my HealthCoach thru work insurance, I got a nurse who was the same as me. But she did get relief up to week 3 and then somewhere in week 3-5 she remembers going back down hill and sure enough she reherniated. She remembered bending once when she shouldn't have.

    I hope that's not what happened to George but it is a concern. My doctor was concerned but since there was no specific fall or incident, he wanted to wait the 3 months b/c the MRI's are harder to read after the 1st surgery.

    I had a with and without contrast MRI so they could distinguish scar tissue. But my re-herniation was so bad, they really didn't even need the dual MRI results.

    I'm headed for revision in a few weeks. If the disc herniates a 3rd time, I will likely have no choice but to live with this or go for a fusion b/c the disc just might be inherently bad.

    George- I would tell your doctor your symptoms and keep him abreast of the situation. Also, my doctor was like your doctor with PT. He said it isn't always necessary but was helpful just to teach me how to keep stomach/core muscles strong without putting additional stress on the back so I wouldn't worry about the PT or not. All doctors I talked to said PT would only be prescribed at 6 weeks and only if the strength didn't come back. So your doctor doesn't alarm me as much as it does others.
  • One week ago today I had L3-L4 Decompression Discetomy. I am on Oxycodone-Acetaminophen 5-325. One day after the surgery I felt great. Made progress in terms of walking around and reducing pain meds and THEN last night I was hit with intense and unstoppable pain.

    The entre lower half of my body felt as if every muscle, molecule and atom was in spasm. I felt
    immobilized. On a 1-10 scale of pain. 10 being the worst I was a sustained 10. Never have a I felt pain like this. I have had sciatic pain and numbness this was SHEETS OF PAIN.

    The only change was that I had called the doctor and asked if I could add Bayer Back and Body so I could taper off the Percocet. I was total it was fine. I want to know:
    - what percent of time walking
    - what percent of time lying down flat
    - what percent of time sitting
    - how long for recovery

    Any insight or help would be deeply appreciated. If it wasn't for prayer I don't know how I would have made it through the night.

  • When I came home from my fusion the resident dr. who worked for my neuro told me walking was the best. So I took him at his word. I walked and walked and walked. Even when it hurt i walked. Within 3 weeks i was off pain meds entirely and have never used them since. I highly recommend walking. It was even better than the PT i went through. It made me really tired but that was good for sleeping. LOL. I probably was walking 2-3 miles a day in week 2. Not all at once i broke it down into segments.
    4 level posterolateral fusion L2-S1 with rods and screws and cadaver bone. Spondylolisthesis, spinal stenosis, scoliosis, sciatica, DDD, facet disease and arthritis. September 2002
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