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Is There Physical Therapy after Microdiscectomy?


7.10 - Is There Physical Therapy after Microdiscectomy-min
Microdiscectomy is a common surgical procedure used to treat herniated discs in the spine. While the surgery itself is a crucial step in addressing severe back pain and related symptoms, the recovery process is equally important for achieving optimal results. One key component of this recovery is physical therapy. In this article, you will learn about the role of physical therapy after microdiscectomy, its benefits, and what patients can expect during their rehabilitation journey.

Understanding Microdiscectomy

Before diving into the physical therapy aspect, it is essential to understand what microdiscectomy entails. This minimally invasive surgical procedure involves removing a small portion of the herniated disc that is pressing on a nerve root or the spinal cord. By alleviating this pressure, microdiscectomy aims to relieve pain, numbness, and weakness in the affected area.

The Importance of Physical Therapy after Microdiscectomy

Physical therapy plays a crucial role in the recovery process following microdiscectomy. Here is why it is so important:

  • Promotes healing and reduces pain – Physical therapy increases blood flow to the surgical site, which can accelerate healing and reduce pain. Gentle exercises and stretches can also alleviate muscle tension and stiffness that may develop after surgery.
  • Restores strength and flexibility – Surgery and the period of reduced activity beforehand can lead to muscle weakness and decreased flexibility. Physical therapy focuses on gradually rebuilding strength in the core and back muscles while increasing overall flexibility.
  • Improves posture and body mechanics – Physical therapists can teach patients proper posture and body mechanics, which are crucial for preventing future injuries and reducing strain on the spine.
  • Enhances functional mobility – Through targeted exercises and techniques, physical therapy helps patients regain their ability to perform daily activities with greater ease and less pain.
  • Prevents complications – Regular physical therapy can prevent common post-surgery complications, such as scar tissue formation, muscle atrophy, and chronic pain.

Timeline for Physical Therapy after Microdiscectomy

The timeline for physical therapy after microdiscectomy can vary depending on individual factors but generally follows this pattern:

Immediate Post-Op Period (0–2 weeks)

During the first few weeks after surgery, the focus is primarily on protecting the surgical site and allowing initial healing. Physical therapy at this stage involves:

  • Gentle movements – Encouraging gentle movements like walking to promote circulation and prevent stiffness
  • Pain management – Using techniques such as ice therapy, electrical stimulation, and gentle massage to manage pain and inflammation
  • Posture education – Educating the patient on maintaining proper posture and body mechanics to protect the spine

Early Recovery Phase (2–6 weeks)

As the initial healing progresses, the physical therapy program becomes more intensive:

  • Stretching exercises – Incorporating gentle stretching exercises to increase flexibility and prevent scar tissue formation
  • Core strengthening – Beginning core strengthening exercises to stabilize the spine and reduce the load on the surgical area
  • Aerobic conditioning – Low-impact aerobic exercises, such as stationary biking or swimming, to enhance cardiovascular fitness without putting undue stress on the spine

Intermediate Recovery Phase (6–12 weeks)

In this phase, the physical therapy program aims to restore full function and strength:

  • Strength training – Progressive resistance training exercises to build strength in the back, core, and lower extremities
  • Functional exercises – Exercises tailored to the patient’s specific needs and lifestyle, focusing on movements the individual performs regularly
  • Balance and coordination – Exercises to improve balance and coordination, which are crucial for preventing falls and further injuries

Long-Term Maintenance (Beyond 12 Weeks Post-Surgery)

Even after the formal physical therapy program ends, it is essential for patients to continue maintaining their spinal health:

  • Home exercise program – Developing a home exercise routine that includes stretching, strengthening, and aerobic exercises to maintain the gains achieved during therapy
  • Lifestyle modifications – Adopting healthy lifestyle habits, such as maintaining a healthy weight, practicing good posture, and avoiding activities that strain the spine

What to Expect during Physical Therapy Sessions

Physical therapy sessions after microdiscectomy typically include a combination of the following elements:

  • Assessment – Your physical therapist will regularly assess your progress, pain levels, and functional abilities to tailor the treatment plan to your needs.
  • Manual therapy – This may include gentle massage, joint mobilization, and other hands-on techniques to increase mobility and reduce pain.
  • Therapeutic exercises – You will be guided through a series of exercises designed to increase strength, flexibility, and stability. These may include core strengthening exercises, stretches, and balance training.
  • Pain management techniques – Your therapist may use various methods to help you manage pain, such as ice or heat therapy, electrical stimulation, or ultrasound.
  • Education – An important part of physical therapy is learning about proper body mechanics, ergonomics, and strategies to prevent future injuries.
  • Home exercise program – Your therapist will provide you with exercises to perform at home between sessions to support your recovery.

Tips for Maximizing the Benefits of Physical Therapy

To get the most out of your physical therapy after microdiscectomy:

  • Follow the physical therapist’s advice – Adhering to the physical therapist’s instructions and attending all scheduled sessions are crucial for a successful recovery. The therapist tailors your program to your specific needs, ensuring a safe and effective rehabilitation process.
  • Listen to your body – It is important to listen to your body and not push through pain. While some discomfort is expected during rehabilitation, sharp or severe pain should be reported to the therapist immediately.
  • Stay active but avoid high-impact activities – Staying active is vital, but it is equally important to avoid high-impact activities that can stress the spine. Activities like running, heavy lifting, and high-intensity sports should be avoided until the therapist gives the go-ahead.
  • Maintain a positive attitude – Recovery can be challenging, but maintaining a positive attitude and staying committed to the rehabilitation process can significantly impact the outcome. Setting realistic goals and celebrating small achievements can keep your motivation high.

Potential Challenges and How to Overcome Them

While physical therapy is generally beneficial, patients may face some challenges:

  • Pain or discomfort – Some exercises may cause temporary discomfort. Communicate with your therapist to ensure you are not pushing too hard.
  • Time commitment – Attending regular sessions and performing home exercises can be time-consuming. Try to integrate exercises into your daily routine.
  • Slow progress – Recovery can sometimes feel slow. Keep in mind that healing takes time, and small improvements add up.
  • Fear of reinjury – Some patients may be hesitant to move due to fear of reinjury. Trust your therapist and the process—the exercises are designed to be safe and beneficial.

Physical therapy is an integral part of the recovery process after microdiscectomy. It plays a crucial role in restoring function, reducing pain, and preventing future problems. While the journey may have its challenges, the long-term benefits of a well-executed physical therapy program are significant. By actively participating in your rehabilitation and following your healthcare team’s guidance, you can maximize your chances of a successful recovery and return to a more active, pain-free lifestyle.

Remember, every patient’s recovery journey is unique. Always consult with your surgeon and physical therapist to develop a rehabilitation plan tailored to your specific needs and circumstances. With patience, persistence, and proper guidance, physical therapy can be a powerful tool in your post-microdiscectomy recovery toolkit.

Even though a microdiscectomy is a common and generally quite successful procedure, a hole is frequently left in the outer wall of the disc. In fact, patients with these large holes in their discs are more than twice as likely to reinjure themselves by having what is known as a reherniation. These reherniations often require additional procedures or even spinal fusion surgery. Fortunately, there is a new treatment specifically designed to close the large holes that are often left in spinal discs after discectomy surgery. Barricaid is a bone-anchored device proven to reduce reherniations, and 95 percent of Barricaid patients did not undergo a reoperation due to reherniation in a 2-year study timeframe. This treatment is performed 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, ask your doctor or contact us directly.

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