Find a physician

How Long after a Discectomy Does the Nerve Heal?


It often takes several weeks or months for a nerve to heal after discectomy surgery. Depending on each patient’s situation, the experience will differ, and it is not uncommon to notice a more immediate decrease in the severity of symptoms after having a discectomy. This article explores this topic by going over what to expect with nerve healing after discectomy surgery.

Nerve-Based Leg Pain

With a disc herniation, it is common for the affected disc to be in the lower back area, which often results in leg pain. According to
Spine Health, leg pain is more likely to subside after a decompression procedure such as a discectomy or a less invasive microdiscectomy. However, between 10 and 20 percent of patients have lingering discomfort in this area until the nerve fully heals.

Numbness and Tingling

If the nerve the
herniated disc was affecting contributed to numbness and tingling sensations, this type of nerve-based discomfort usually takes more time to heal. Generally, it can take anywhere from several months to a full year after a discectomy for numbness, tingling sensations, and general weakness to entirely go away.

Permanent Nerve Damage

While not common, a nerve that was compressed prior to having a discectomy may not fully heal. This is more likely to be the case if the nerve was irritated for a longer time prior to surgery. Typically, nerve damage is considered permanent if the patient is still noticing related symptoms more than a year after the procedure.

Why Nerves Often Take Longer to Heal

Just because a nerve is no longer compressed does not mean signals automatically travel again the way they did before surgery. There is related damage that needs time to heal, which typically happens within a 6–12-week period. There may also be a healing delay with nerves that control muscle movements called motor nerves. This is more likely to happen if the damaged part of the nerve is in the area where it links to the muscle. If nerve impulses in this area are interrupted for more than 18–24 months, the nerve will not heal.

Possible Surgery-Related Factors Affecting Nerve Healing

Nerve-related damage specifically caused by an oversight involving the discectomy itself is rare, but it could happen. If it does, possible reasons nerve healing may be delayed or fail to occur as expected include:

• A part of the disc is still irritating the nerve
• The incorrect spinal segment was treated
• The nerve root was accidentally cut

Detecting and Managing Post-Surgery Nerve Issues

A specialized test called an electromyography (EMG) may be performed after a discectomy. An EMG measures nerve cell and muscle tissue activity. The results often indicate whether or not a nerve has been damaged post-surgery or if there could be some delays in healing. If you are still experiencing some degree of nerve pain after your discectomy, your doctor may advise using anti-inflammatory medication. This medication minimizes the tissue swelling that can increase nerve irritation. Therapeutic exercises such as
sciatic nerve stretches may also be beneficial for some patients experiencing lingering nerve-related discomfort.

If you have a herniated disc that is not responding to conservative treatment, a discectomy may be discussed and potentially recommended. Although this is generally a very successful procedure, having a large hole in the outer ring of the disc more than doubles the risk of needing another operation. A new treatment, Barricaid, is a bone-anchored device that closes this hole, 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, ask your doctor or contact us at 844-288-7474.

For full benefit/risk information, please visit: