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How Long after Microdiscectomy Can I Play Sports?


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Microdiscectomy is a minimally invasive surgery that removes part or all of a herniated disc that is pressing on a nerve and causing pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in the lower back, buttocks, or legs. The surgery can relieve the symptoms of sciatica, spinal stenosis, or other spinal conditions and improve the function and mobility of the spine.

Microdiscectomy, the less invasive form of traditional discectomy, has a high success rate and a low complication rate, and most patients can go home the same day or the next day after the surgery. However, the recovery time and the return to normal activities, including sports, can vary depending on several factors, such as the type and extent of the surgery, the age and health of the patient, and the level of pain and discomfort.

One of the common questions patients have after microdiscectomy is how long they have to wait before they can play sports again. The answer depends on the individual case, but there are some general guidelines and tips that can help patients make a safe and gradual return to sports after microdiscectomy.

Factors that Affect the Return to Sports after Microdiscectomy

The return to sports after microdiscectomy can be affected by several factors, such as:

  • The type and extent of the surgery – Microdiscectomy can be performed with different techniques and instruments, such as a microscope, an endoscope, or a laser. The size and location of the herniated disc and the amount of disc material that is removed can also vary. These factors can influence the amount of tissue damage and inflammation, which in turn affects the healing and recovery process.
  • The age and health of the patient – Each person’s body responds differently to surgery. Factors such as age, overall health, and preexisting conditions play a role in determining the speed of recovery.
  • The level of pain – This can vary from patient to patient depending on the severity of the preoperative symptoms, the effectiveness of the surgery, and the response to postoperative care. The level of pain can affect mobility and function as well as the ability and willingness of the patient to resume physical activity and sports.
  • The type and intensity of the sport – These factors can also affect the return to sports after microdiscectomy. Some sports, such as walking, swimming, and cycling, are low-impact and gentle on the spine and can be resumed sooner than other sports, such as running, jumping, or lifting, which are high-impact and stressful on the spine. Other sports, such as golf, tennis, or basketball, involve bending, twisting, or turning of the spine, which can increase the risk of reinjury or reherniation of the disc.

Guidelines for Resuming Sports 

These guidelines vary from patient to patient, depending on the factors mentioned above. However, there are some general guidelines that can help you make a safe and gradual return to sports after microdiscectomy, such as:

  • Follow your doctor’s instructions – Your doctor will give you specific instructions on how to care for your wound, manage your pain, prevent infection, and resume activities. The doctor will also monitor your progress and adjust your treatment plan as needed. You should follow these instructions carefully and report any problems or concerns to your physician.
  • Start with walking – Walking is one of the best exercises to do after microdiscectomy, as it increases blood circulation and oxygen delivery to the spine and the surrounding tissues and stimulates the healing and recovery process. Walking can also strengthen the muscles and ligaments that support the spine and prevent stiffness and scar tissue formation. You should start with walking as soon as possible after the surgery and gradually increase the distance and duration as tolerated.
  • Progress to low-impact sports – After walking for a few weeks, you may move on to low-impact sports, such as swimming, cycling, or elliptical training, which can provide more cardiovascular and muscular benefits without putting too much stress or strain on your spine. Start with low intensity and frequency and gradually increase them as tolerated.
  • Avoid high-impact or twisting sports – Sports such as running, jumping, lifting, golf, tennis, or basketball should be avoided for at least 6 to 12 weeks after your microdiscectomy or until the doctor approves them. These sports can create excessive pressure or torque on your spine and increase your risk of reinjury or reherniation. 
  • Listen to your body – Pay attention to the signs and signals that indicate your body’s readiness for physical activity and sports. Stop or reduce your activity if it causes pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in your spine or affected limbs or if it interferes with the healing and recovery process. You should also rest and recover adequately between sports sessions and avoid overdoing it or overloading your spine.

Tips for a Safe Return to Sports 

Several tips can help you make a safe and successful return to sports after microdiscectomy, such as:

  • Warm up and cool down – Warming up before and cooling down after you play sports can prepare your muscles and joints for the movement and prevent injury or soreness. These should include some light cardio, dynamic stretches, and progressive sets of the activity with lighter intensity or weight.
  • Use proper form and technique – This can ensure optimal alignment and balance of your spine and the efficient activation and coordination of your muscles. Proper form includes keeping your spine neutral, your chest up, your shoulders back, your core braced, your hips and knees bent, your feet flat, and your head in line with your spine.
  • Modify or adapt the sport – Modifying or adapting the way you play your sport can make it more suitable and comfortable for your spine and reduce the risk of reherniation or reinjury. This may include changing the intensity, frequency, duration, or mode of the sport or using assistive devices or equipment, such as a brace, a belt, or a cushion.
  • Seek professional guidance – Guidance from a doctor, physical therapist, trainer, or coach can teach the best practices and techniques for your preferred sport, and you can receive feedback and correction on your performance and progress. Professional guidance can also help you set realistic and achievable goals and expectations for your return to sports after your microdiscectomy.

Returning to sports after microdiscectomy is a gradual process that requires patience, careful monitoring, and professional guidance. While the desire to resume normal activities is understandable, prioritizing your long-term health is paramount. By working closely with your healthcare team and gradually reintroducing activities, you can navigate the road to recovery and eventually get back to the sports you love, stronger and more resilient than before.

Back surgery recovery time varies among individuals and depends on factors such as whether the patient has a large hole 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 microdiscectomy, 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 today.

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