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Is It Normal to Have Flare-Ups Following Microdiscectomy?


Since a microdiscectomy is a herniated disc treatment performed with minimally invasive techniques that include smaller incisions, patients often have fewer issues with post-surgery discomfort. However, nerve roots are still sensitive several weeks after the procedure, which means you could have some occasional flare-ups as you recover and increase your activity level. This article discusses when these temporary pain spikes are typically considered normal and when it is best to contact your doctor.

Why Flare-Ups May Happen Post-Surgery

Once you return home after having a microdiscectomy, you may be prescribed painkillers and other medications that tend to work well for managing post-surgery discomfort. After a week or so, patients are usually weaned off stronger pain meds for safety reasons. It is during this time when you may begin to notice flare-ups as nerves and tissues continue to heal and you are more aware of related pain sensations. If the flare-ups begin to subside as you continue to recover, this is typically considered normal. 


Flare-ups after a microdiscectomy may also occur due to:

• Increased activity
• Added stress within the affected area from daily movements
• Certain routines that are part of post-surgery physical therapy
• Posture while sitting and sleeping

Additionally, flare-ups may occur if you are not as active as you should be after your microdiscectomy. This can happen if soft tissues around the affected area suddenly go from a prolonged inactive state to an active one. Conversely, pushing yourself too hard too soon could also contribute to flare-ups if you place excess stress on the area that is healing.

When to Contact Your Doctor

It is not unusual to have painful flare-ups or related stiffness when you are past the six-week point after having a microdiscectomy. Before you begin any new medication to manage flare-ups, check with your doctor to make sure what you are experiencing is still considered normal. At any point after your procedure, also contact your doctor if you experience:

• Extreme pain or discomfort with your flare-ups
• Discomfort that becomes more than just temporary flare-ups
• Flare-ups coupled with a return of similar nerve-related symptoms (e.g., leg pain and/or numbness and tingling sensations)

Managing Flare-Ups after a Microdiscectomy

As long as your flare-ups are fairly minor and not excessively disruptive, it may be possible to manage these short-term pain spikes. This is sometimes done with muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory medications. Applying heat and cold to the affected area is another way to effectively manage flare-ups after a microdiscectomy. Heat, which can be applied with a heating pad or gel, relaxes tissues and reduces muscle spasms within the affected area. Cold applications using ice wrapped in a cloth or an ice pack ease the inflammation that sometimes makes flare-ups more painful. Both heat and cold applications should be limited to 15 to 20 minutes at a time to avoid skin irritation.

Pain levels and
microdiscectomy recovery time vary among individuals and depend on factors such as disc height and the size of the hole left in the outer ring of the disc after surgery. If the hole in the disc is larger than a standard pencil eraser, the patient has a significant risk of experiencing a reherniation. Patients with a large hole in the outer ring of the disc are more than twice as likely to reherniate after surgery. These reherniations often require additional surgery or even a larger spinal fusion operation. Barricaid is a bone-anchored device shown to reduce reherniations by closing the hole in the disc after a discectomy, and 95 percent of Barricaid patients did not undergo a reoperation due to reherniation in a 2-year study timeframe. This treatment is done immediately following the discectomy—during the same operation—and does not require any additional incisions or time in the hospital. 


If you have any questions about the Barricaid treatment or how to get access to Barricaid, you may ask your doctor or contact us at 844-288-7474.

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