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Is Your Back Worse after a Microdiscectomy?


7.1. - Is Your Back Worse after a Microdiscectomy-min

Back pain can be a debilitating issue, leading many to seek surgical solutions such as a microdiscectomy. While this minimally invasive surgery can provide significant relief from sciatica and other symptoms caused by herniated discs, some patients experience continued or new back pain afterward. In this article, you will learn about the reasons behind post-microdiscectomy pain, what to expect during recovery, and strategies for managing discomfort to ensure a smooth healing process.

Understanding Microdiscectomy and Its Purpose

A microdiscectomy is a surgical procedure aimed at removing part of a herniated disc in the spine that is pressing on nerve roots, causing pain, numbness, or weakness. The surgery is less invasive than a traditional discectomy, involving smaller incisions and typically resulting in shorter recovery times. However, as with any surgery, it carries risks and potential complications.

Common Causes of Post-Surgery Back Pain

Surgical Trauma

Even though microdiscectomy is minimally invasive, it is still a surgical procedure that involves cutting and manipulating tissues. The trauma to muscles, ligaments, and nerves during the surgery can cause inflammation and pain during the initial healing period. This is usually temporary and should gradually subside as the tissues heal.

Residual or Recurrent Disc Herniation

In some cases, not all of the herniated disc material can be removed, or new disc material may herniate post-surgery. This can result in persistent or recurrent back pain and sciatica-like symptoms. Residual herniation means some of the original herniated disc was left behind, while recurrent herniation refers to new disc material herniating after the surgery.

Scar Tissue Formation

The body naturally forms scar tissue as part of the healing process. However, excessive scar tissue around the surgical site can cause adhesions that may irritate spinal nerves, leading to pain. This is often referred to as epidural fibrosis and can be a source of ongoing discomfort.

Altered Biomechanics

After a microdiscectomy, the spine’s biomechanics can be altered. Changes in the way the vertebrae and discs interact can lead to increased stress on adjacent discs and joints, potentially causing pain. This can be exacerbated by poor posture or inadequate rehabilitation exercises post-surgery.

What to Expect During Recovery

Immediate Post-Surgery Period

Immediately after surgery, it is normal to experience some degree of pain and discomfort. This pain is usually due to the surgical trauma and should begin to decrease within the first few weeks. Patients are often prescribed pain medications to manage this initial postoperative pain.

First Few Weeks to Months

During the first few months, it is crucial to follow a rehabilitation plan that includes physical therapy. Physical therapists guide patients through exercises designed to strengthen the muscles supporting the spine and increase flexibility, which can alleviate pain and prevent future issues. It is essential to avoid strenuous activities and heavy lifting during this period.

Long-Term Recovery

Long-term recovery varies among individuals. While many patients experience significant pain relief within a few months, some may continue to have intermittent pain for up to a year. It is important to maintain an active lifestyle with regular low-impact exercises, such as walking, swimming, or yoga, to support spine health.

Managing Post-Microdiscectomy Pain


Pain management often begins with medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce inflammation and pain. In some cases, stronger pain relievers or muscle relaxants may be prescribed for short-term use.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is a cornerstone of post-microdiscectomy care. A tailored program can restore mobility, strength, and function while reducing pain. Therapists teach proper body mechanics to avoid putting unnecessary stress on the spine.

Alternative Therapies

Some patients find relief through alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, chiropractic care, or massage therapy. These treatments can complement traditional medical approaches and contribute to overall pain management and wellbeing.

Lifestyle Modifications

Adopting a healthy lifestyle can significantly impact recovery. Maintaining a healthy weight, practicing good posture, and engaging in regular exercise are vital. Avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can also promote better healing.

When to Seek Medical Attention

While some pain after a microdiscectomy is normal, certain symptoms warrant immediate medical attention. These include:

  • Severe, worsening pain not relieved by medication
  • Signs of infection, such as fever, redness, or drainage at the incision site
  • New or worsening neurological symptoms, such as numbness, weakness, or loss of bowel/bladder control

If any of these symptoms occur, it is crucial to contact a healthcare provider promptly.

Experiencing back pain after a microdiscectomy can be concerning, but understanding the potential causes and following a comprehensive recovery plan can help patients manage discomfort and promote healing. With the right approach, most patients can achieve significant relief and return to their normal activities. Always communicate openly with your healthcare provider about your symptoms and progress to ensure the best possible outcome.

Although microdiscectomy surgery is generally a very successful procedure, patients with a larger hole in the outer ring of the disc have a significantly higher risk of reherniation following surgery. Often, the surgeon will not know the size of the hole until beginning surgery. A new treatment, Barricaid, which is a bone-anchored device proven to reduce the risk of reherniation, was specifically designed to close the large hole often left in the spinal disc after discectomy. This treatment is done immediately following the discectomy—during the same operation—and does not require any additional incisions or time in the hospital. In a large-scale study, 95 percent of Barricaid patients did not undergo a reoperation due to reherniation in the 2-year study timeframe. 

If you have any questions about the Barricaid treatment or how to get access to Barricaid, ask your doctor or contact us.

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