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How Long Should I Expect to Have Pain after a Microdiscectomy?


While often a last resort, unless nerve-compression symptoms are severe, a discectomy can provide welcome relief when various nonsurgical treatments aren’t providing pain relief. Patients often wonder how long pain may last following a discectomy. Here's what you need to know about possible post-surgery discomfort following a discectomy.

Expect More Intense Post-Surgery Pain for the First Few Weeks

Even with a microdiscectomy that involves smaller incisions and less disruption to nearby areas, some initial pain should be expected as tissues heal. The pain you experience after the anesthesia wears off and you return home usually lasts for a few weeks. Because this pain may be intense, it's common for discectomy patients to be prescribed post-surgery medications that may include:

• Strong opioid painkillers
• NSAIDs to minimize discomfort from any post-surgery tissue swelling
• Non-opioid pain relievers like acetaminophen

Initial Pain May Last Longer with an Open Discectomy

If you have a traditional or "open" discectomy, the incision made is usually longer. It's common for some muscle tissues to be moved as well to access the affected disc. Because these actions may be more traumatic for the body, post-surgery pain may last for up to a month or more.

Minor Discomfort May Continue before Subsiding Completely

Once you overcome the initial
microdiscectomy recovery phase, which is usually 7-10 days after the surgery, expect to be either almost entirely or completely off stronger pain medications. These drugs are only meant to be used for a short time because of the risk of addiction and other potentially serious issues. However, some discectomy patients continue to have minor discomfort that may last longer. This type of pain is usually managed with non-opioid medications, a list that includes NSAIDs and muscle relaxants.

Manage Flare-Ups with Hot/Cold Therapy

It's normal to have some pain flare-ups as you heal and recover from a microdiscectomy. Some patients experience more immediate relief with hot and cold therapy when painful flare-ups occur. Your surgeon may recommend applying either heat or cold to the affected area. However, avoid direct contact with the skin, especially around the surgery site, as your sensitivity may be somewhat diminished for the first few weeks. Heat or cold can be safely applied with methods that include:

• Ice packs
• Warm baths
• Heating or cooling gel
• A heating pad

Take Precautions to Minimize Post-Surgery Pain

As you recover from your discectomy, make an effort to avoid overstressing your healing spine and discs. Some patients find it easier to prepare their homes prior to surgery to minimize strain, stress, and the risk of reinjury. This process typically involves:

• Putting often-used items in lower areas
• Setting up a temporary sleeping area on the first floor
• Arranging for assistance with cleaning, shopping, and other more demanding tasks

• Limiting any lifting until given permission by your doctor

It's also important to avoid excessive reaching, stretching, or bending. And while rest is recommended for the first week or so after surgery, too much rest can weaken spine-supporting muscles and make pain more noticeable. A balance of light activity and rest is recommended.

Check with Your Doctor before Going Back to Your Meds

Most patients are able to successfully stop taking post-surgery medication after the first month or so. If you feel a need to go back to some of the meds you were taking previously, check with your doctor first before taking this step. There may be other ways to safely and effectively manage your pain.

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 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 discectomy, and 95 percent of Barricaid patients didn’t 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 doesn’t 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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