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How Soon Should Physical Therapy Begin after Microdiscectomy Surgery?


Even though a microdiscectomy is less invasive than a traditional discectomy, you will need to take some precautions during the initial post-surgery healing period. Beyond that point, you will be advised to take steps to strengthen the muscles and other soft tissues that support your spine. This is one of the goals with post-surgery physical therapy. As for when you should start physical therapy (PT) after a microdiscectomy, this article explains the general guidelines.

4–6 Weeks Is the General Recommendation

This is the standard recommendation for when a structured physical therapy plan is usually started after microdiscectomy surgery. The reason for waiting just over a month post-surgery to take this step is to reduce the risk of affecting tissue healing. There is also the potential for some of the movements associated with PT exercises to be a bit too strenuous during the initial
microdiscectomy recovery period, which could present some reherniation risks.

PT May Start Sooner or Later

If your surgery went smoothly and your doctor has given you the green light, you may be able to get started with physical therapy sooner. Conversely, you may be advised to wait a bit longer to start a formal PT program if you experience some post-surgery issues. The determination of when to start PT post-procedure is usually based on factors such as:

• Whether or not there are post-surgery complications
• Your overall physical health
• The kind of post-surgery discomfort experienced
• The specific part of the back where surgery was performed

Lighter Activities Can Usually Begin Earlier

There is a difference between a structured PT plan and lighter activities, more gentle forms of
lower back pain exercises patients are often able to safely do shortly after surgery. For example, you may be able to start walking as soon as you are home. Even shorter walks or ones performed at a slower pace increase circulation and promote healing. Some other light activities may be fine as well a week or so post-surgery, but make sure to consult with your doctor first.

The Initial Physical Therapy Evaluation

Once you receive your doctor’s approval to start physical therapy after a microdiscectomy, there is usually an initial physical therapist assessment. You will meet with a physical therapist, who will recommend a personalized plan for you. The PT evaluation process typically includes:

• Input from your doctor or spine surgeon
• A review of your general health and how your surgery went
• A range of motion and flexibility assessment
• A functional assessment to determine routines or exercises that are safe and appropriate

Work with Your Doctor to Get More Specific Input

When physical therapy can start is largely based on what is safe and comfortable for you. Make your experience with PT post-surgery positive and beneficial by discussing your preferences with your doctor. Be descriptive about any discomfort you may be noticing as well and if it is an issue for you. This information helps your doctor determine with better certainty when you can safely begin PT.

Even though microdiscectomy surgery 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 surgery or even fusions. 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 at 844-288-7474.

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