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How Much Pain Should I Expect while Recovering from a Discectomy?


Recovery from a discectomy can sometimes be painful, as is the case with any spine-related procedure. However, many patients can enjoy a full and productive recovery from discectomy surgery. This article explains what you need to know about recovering from a discectomy and dealing with any post-operative discomfort you may experience.

You Can Expect the Initial Pain to Be a Bit More Severe

It is perfectly normal to experience pain when you first return home after having a discectomy, even if you had a minimally invasive
microdiscectomy. This is when the discomfort is more likely to be severe in nature—or at least more bothersome, since tissues are healing. During this stage of recovery, you should be able to minimize your discomfort by:

• Not excessively resting
• Taking your post-surgery medications as directed
• Not excessively lifting, twisting, bending, reaching, or stretching
• Talking to your doctor if you notice an increase in post-surgery pain or discomfort

Your Discomfort Should Naturally Subside after 2–3 Weeks

If you had a less invasive procedure, the more severe post-surgery discomfort you are experiencing should naturally subside fairly quickly. Even if you had a standard or open discectomy, this should still be the case. However, it may take a bit longer, which is normal because an open discectomy requires a larger incision. At this point, your recovery should include:

• Gentle stretches and exercises
• Walking and similar lighter forms of exercise to stimulate blood flow and strengthen muscles around the surgical site
• Follow-up visits to your doctor to check the surgical site and discuss your recovery
• A reduced reliance on post-surgery meds to prevent any possible issues with stronger opioid pain relievers

Physical Therapy Should Help with Pain Management after 4–6 Weeks

After approximately a month, discectomy patients typically begin physical therapy programs. Physical therapy is beneficial for managing post-operative pain because it further strengthens spine-supporting muscles. As you advance through your physical therapy program, you should notice a natural reduction in your discomfort. Your physical therapist will likely recommend some exercises and routines you can safely do at home, which should further minimize your pain. It is perfectly normal to notice occasional pain flares as you advance through your physical therapy program. If these are too disruptive or severe, let your doctor or physical therapist know.

Making Some Lifestyle Adjustments Can Be Beneficial

Further minimize your risk of experiencing noticeable and disruptive post-discectomy discomfort by making some adjustments in your diet, exercise, and posture habits. Lifestyle adjustments of this nature that tend to be most beneficial for recovering patients include:

• Eating more nutrient-rich foods, such as blueberries, lean proteins, and nonfat dairy products
• Making an effort to continue to find ways to safely exercise as you recover
• Improving your posture as you sit, rest, and walk

Posture improvement may involve not slouching in chairs, sleeping in a spine-supportive position and on a supportive mattress, and standing up straight with your shoulders back as you walk. Lastly, watch your pace as you get back to activities you used to enjoy prior to having spinal disc issues. Doing so reduces the risk of experiencing renewed or more severe pain from disc reherniation or reinjury.

Pain levels and back surgery 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 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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