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Is Leg Pain Following Microdiscectomy Considered Normal?


9.6 - Is It Normal to Have Some Leg Pain After Microdiscectomy

Microdiscectomy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure that involves removing a small portion of a herniated disc that is pressing on a nerve root in the spine. The surgery is usually performed to relieve sciatica, which is a condition that causes pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in the leg due to nerve compression. Microdiscectomy has a high success rate and can provide significant relief for many patients. However, some patients may experience leg pain after the surgery, which can be concerning and frustrating. This article explains why leg pain may occur after microdiscectomy, how long it might last, and what you can do to manage it.

What Causes Leg Pain After Microdiscectomy?

Leg pain after microdiscectomy can have various causes, depending on the severity and duration of the pain. Some of the possible causes are:

  • Nerve root healing – One of the most common reasons for leg pain after microdiscectomy is that the nerve root that was compressed by the disc needs some time to heal and recover. If the nerve was irritated for a long time before the surgery, it may take several weeks or months for the nerve function to return to normal. This healing process can lead to residual pain in the leg. The pain may also fluctuate depending on activity level and posture.
    Inflammation – Surgery causes inflammation as the body responds to the trauma and begins the healing process. Inflammation around the surgical site or along the affected nerve pathways can result in discomfort radiating down the leg.
  • Scar tissue formation – Another possible cause of leg pain after microdiscectomy is the formation of scar tissue around the nerve root. Scar tissue is a normal part of the healing process, but sometimes it can become excessive or adhere to the nerve root, causing irritation and pain. This problem usually occurs several weeks or months after the surgery and may require additional treatment, such as physical therapy, injections, or additional surgery.
  • Incorrect diagnosis – A less common but more serious cause of leg pain after microdiscectomy is that the initial diagnosis was incorrect or incomplete. This means there may be another source of nerve compression or irritation that was not addressed by the surgery. For example, there may be another herniated disc, spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, or piriformis syndrome that is affecting the sciatic nerve. In this case, further diagnostic tests and treatments may be needed to find and treat the actual cause of the pain.

How Long Does Leg Pain Last After Microdiscectomy?

The duration of leg pain after microdiscectomy varies from person to person and depends on the cause and severity of the pain. Most patients can expect their leg pain to subside steadily as they recover. In general, the stages of leg pain typically follow a predictable pattern:

  • Immediate post-surgery discomfort – It is perfectly normal to experience some degree of discomfort immediately after microdiscectomy. The surgical site will be tender, and you might notice sensations of pain in your leg. This is typically a result of the surgical procedure itself and the inflammation it causes.
  • Residual leg pain – In the weeks following surgery, you might continue to feel some leg pain. This can be due to the nerve healing process and the inflammation gradually subsiding. Many patients find that this pain diminishes over time.
  • Gradual improvement – As you progress through your recovery timeline, you should notice a gradual improvement in your leg pain. The pain should become less intense and less frequent as your body heals.
According to Spine-health, most patients are able to stop taking pain medications within 4 to 6 weeks after the surgery. However, some patients may have persistent or recurrent leg pain that lasts longer than 6 weeks or even months. This may indicate a complication or an underlying condition that needs further evaluation and treatment.

How Can You Manage Leg Pain After Microdiscectomy?

There are several ways to manage leg pain after microdiscectomy, depending on the cause and intensity of the pain. Some of the common methods are:

  • Medication – Your doctor may prescribe some painkillers, such as opioids, NSAIDs, or muscle relaxants, to help you cope with the initial postoperative pain. You should follow your doctor’s instructions on how to take these medications safely and effectively. You should also gradually reduce your dependence on these medications as your pain improves and consult your doctor before taking any new or old medications.
  • Ice or heat therapy – You can apply ice or heat packs to your lower back or leg for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day to reduce inflammation and pain. Ice can be especially helpful in the first few days after the surgery, while heat can be more beneficial later on as your muscles relax and heal. You should use a towel or cloth as a barrier between your skin and the ice or heat source to avoid skin damage.
  • Physical therapy – Your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist, who can teach you exercises and stretches to strengthen your core and back muscles, improve your posture and flexibility, and reduce pressure on your nerve root. Physical therapy can also include modalities such as ultrasound, electrical stimulation, or massage to relieve your pain and inflammation.
  • Lifestyle modifications – You should also make some changes in your daily activities and habits to prevent further injury and promote healing. For example, you should avoid lifting heavy objects, bending or twisting your spine, sitting or standing for long periods, or driving until your doctor clears you. You should also maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, avoid smoking or drinking alcohol, and get enough sleep.

When Should You Seek Medical Attention?

Although leg pain is normal following microdiscectomy, it may sometimes be necessary to see a doctor for further evaluation. Seek medical attention if you experience any of the following: 

  • Severe, unrelenting pain – While some degree of pain is to be expected, severe and unrelenting pain that does not respond to prescribed pain management strategies should never be ignored. This could be a sign of complications or a different underlying issue.
  • New symptoms – If you experience new symptoms, such as weakness, numbness, or tingling in your leg, foot, or other areas, it is important to consult your doctor promptly. These could indicate nerve damage or other complications.
  • Inflammation and infection – If you notice increased redness, swelling, or warmth around the surgical site, it could be a sign of infection. Infections can lead to heightened pain and need to be addressed promptly.
  • Sudden changes – If your leg pain suddenly worsens after a period of improvement, it could indicate a problem. Sudden changes should always be discussed with your healthcare provider.
Experiencing leg pain after microdiscectomy is a common aspect of the recovery process. While it might be unsettling, understanding the reasons behind it and what is considered normal can alleviate your concerns. Remember that every individual’s healing journey is unique, and a certain degree of discomfort is to be expected. However, staying vigilant and recognizing when to seek medical attention are crucial elements in ensuring a smooth recovery. If you are ever unsure or concerned about the pain you are experiencing, never hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider for guidance and reassurance. By following your doctor’s advice and taking good care of yourself, you can increase your chances of a successful recovery and a pain-free life.

Although microdiscectomy surgery is generally a very successful procedure, a hole is left in the outer wall of the disc. Patients with a large hole in the outer ring of the disc are more than twice as likely to reherniate after surgery. A new treatment, Barricaid, which is a bone-anchored device proven to reduce reherniations, was specifically designed to close the large hole often left in the spinal disc after discectomy. In a large-scale study, 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. 

To learn more about the Barricaid treatment, ask your doctor or contact us at 844-288-7474.

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