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I just was wondering what kind of a recovery process i can expect after a discectomy. How long approx. until i can return to school? and what will the pain be like?
I am debating a discectomy for herniations at L4-L5 and L5-S1, and was just curious. Can the surgery generally wait a couple months or is it a good idea to do it sooner than later. I ask this because i am currently in school and it would be convienient to do it during the christmas break. The ortho wants to do it now.....
any advice would be great
Hi Jen,

Sorry to hear about your herniated disc. Fellow spineys and medical professionals have been debating the issue of disc surgery for a long time. I could write on this subject for hours, but in the end, there is no right answer.

If you have mostly leg pain and minimal back pain, have increasing muscle weakness and numbing in your legs, cannot sleep, then surgery is a consideration. Keep in mind however, that due to the trauma of a micro-discectomy you may be left with residual life long back pain. However, if you are in that much pain, maybe that risk is OK for you.

The alternative is to stop lifting, get your weight down, engage in gentle PT, and wait it out. 80% of all herniations heal/reabsorb on their own within a few years. Some people report that delaying surgery causes irreversable damage to the nerves - but some recent studies suggest that is not true.

Surgery may take some of the pain way sooner, but long-term a disc that has not been operated on is ususally preferred over one that has, so we generally try to avoid surgery if possible.

Bottom line is that in five years you will be doing about the same whether you had surgery or did not have surgery. With or without surgery, you are likely to always have some pain and will have to watch all lifting.

Wish I could be more helpful in pointing you toward a definitive answer. Any one that does try to persuade you to have surgery(surgeon included) is not acting in your best interest.

Guess I can safely say is that if you are not loosing bowel/bladder control, are not seeing increasing progressive weakness in your legs/feet, than waiting a few months can be nothing but positive. You might begin to see some improvement.

Now to your real question. Generally you should expect to be down and out for about six weeks. Most don't really begin feeling well for 3 to 6 months. This is major surgery. good luck


[This message has been edited by Joanne from San Jose (edited 10-13-2002).]

[This message has been edited by Joanne from San Jose (edited 10-13-2002).]

Hi Jen,

I had really bad leg cramps and minimal back pain New Years Eve of 1998 and found myself in urgent care. I was told it was sciatic pain, was given main meds and pt and in a couple of weeks I felt better. I've had leg cramps off since then, but nothing I couldn't tolerate. In May I had another episode of this horrible pain and was back in urgent care. I was told I probably had a bulging disc and 1998, however, this time I learned I have an 8mm herniated disc. So if you can tolerate the pain I don't think there is any rush for surgery. This time I have no choice because it hasn't gone away as I'd hoped and is keeping me from performing my normal daily activities and unable to work.

I wish you the best and hope all goes well for you! Keep us posted.


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