How Quick Is Recovery after Microdiscectomy?

Senior doctor giving his male patient a thorough checkup during his consultation

Thanks to innovations in medical techniques and technology, patients with a simple one level herniated or slipped disc can quickly recover. One such treatment option is a microdiscectomy commonly performed by a CNSO neurosurgeon or an orthopedic spine surgeon. To help patients understand the full scope of this procedure, Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics, treating patients throughout northern New Jersey, explains what patients can expect after a microdiscectomy.

About Microdiscectomy Back Surgery

Discectomy and microdiscectomy are both surgeries that involve the partial to complete removal of a damaged or distorted spinal disc that is causing the patient discomfort or loss of function. A microscopic may be used in either type of surgery but the difference is the size of the incision and the tools utilized that assist with the size of the incision. The goal of these procedures is to alleviate pressure on the spinal cord or on the aggravated, pinched nerve.

For a simple, one-level herniated disc, a minimally invasive microdiscectomy may be recommended. The incision will be no more than 2 centimeters and dilators may or may not be used to maintain visualization through the very small opening. A microdiscectomy or an even larger opening as used with a discectomy might be necessary for patients if greater visualization of the surrounding structures is needed and treatment any surrounding anatomical structures is required. Often spondylosis or arthritis of the spine can cause the need for a larger field of visualization.

Before a microdiscectomy or discectomy, the CNSO neurosurgeon or spine surgeon will thoroughly discuss the procedure with the patient in detail. This consultation will include how to prepare beforehand and what to expect afterward.

What Happens After the Surgery? What is the immediate Post-Surgery?

 Patients should ask their surgeon what the recovery period.  Questions to ask are:

  • How will I feel after surgery?
  • What will the recovery period be like?
  • Do I need to make special arrangements ahead of surgery?
  • Will I need surgery again in the future?

Most patients may be able to go home the same day as the procedure. Patients with severe comorbidities may require a short hospital stay for observation. Most patients have immediate relief of their symptoms after a microdiscectomy.  The surgical incision site can be mildly uncomfortable but is relieved with minimal pain medication.  Minimal weightlifting is allowed initially. Within 6 weeks, a patient can resume all their activities though individual patients may have slight modifications.  At this time, physical therapy or other follow-up appointments likely will be scheduled.

At-Home Patient Care

Most patients will be able to return to work within two weeks after surgery assuming their job is not labor intensive. As patients recover, they may benefit from assistance with housekeeping, cooking, and other chores, as well as caring for the incision site. Pain and fatigue are common, especially the first few days after the procedure.

In terms of restrictions, it is common for providers to recommend the patient limit bending, lifting, or twisting movements during the recovery period. This helps prevent the risk of re-herniation of the remainder of the disc as well as any other complications. Other recommendations may include waiting at least two weeks to drive, walking a dog who might pull on the patient, and only light-to-moderate activities. Those who are routinely involved in strenuous labor and contact sports may need to wait until closer to the 12-week mark to return to those activities.

Microdiscectomy Success Rates

Studies cited in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Library of Medicine show that approximately 80% of lumbar discectomies achieve satisfactory outcomes. Other studies show that recurrent lumbar disc herniation (RLDH) incidences are in the 5 to 18% range. At CNSO, our patients have a 98% satisfaction rate and the RLDH is less than 1%.  Abiding by the post-operative recovery instructions is crucial to the success of the procedure and the health of the patient. Some things that may prolong recovery time include:

  • Too much activity
  • Not following the medication plan
  • Being sedentary (mild activity helps prevent stiffness)
  • Diabetes and other chronic conditions

Depending on the case, lifestyle changes may be recommended to help ensure overall well-being.

Additional Factors that Affect Recovery After a Microdiscectomy

It is important to note that, although rare, patients who experience complications may require additional treatments, post-operative care, and recovery time. Risks include:

  • Damage to surrounding tissue
  • Spinal fluid leakage
  • Adverse anesthesia reactions

At Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics (CNSO), the board-certified neurosurgeons and orthopedic spine surgeons are experienced in advanced complex spine surgical procedures, including the microdiscectomy procedure. In addition to surgeons, CNSO is staffed with staff who are experts at conservative non-surgical care such as pain management doctors, rehabilitation specialists, and physical therapists who work together to foster rapid recovery either without or after surgery. CNSO patients routinely experience positive outcomes. Contact CNSO today for more information on the microdiscectomy procedure and the other available forms of spine care including spine surgery in northern New Jersey.

Centers for Neurosurgery Spine & Orthopedics