Lumbar discectomy is performed under general anaesthesia. The surgeon will need to access the herniated disc to remove only the fragment of disc that is pinching the nerve while leaving most of the disc intact. In circumstances where the entire disc must be removed, it will be replaced with another piece of bone or a synthetic disc and fused to the connecting vertebrae.
Depending on the extent of your surgery, you may be admitted for observation. Post-operative pain is normal and will be managed with medication. As soon as you are able, you are advised to stand and walk to aid in the recovery process. You may need to speak to a physiotherapist to discuss how to sit, stand, climb stairs and get out of bed safely.
Recovery period for lumbar discectomy
Recovery will be different from person to person, depending on your health and the extent of your surgery. Generally, you should avoid sitting for long periods and try to walk as often as you are able, to help maintain mobility and reduce the risk of scar tissue formation. You should also avoid any strenuous activity, including bending, stretching or lifting heavy objects.
A return to work is possible after 2 – 4 weeks if your job is not physically demanding. Should your job require heavy lifting or operation of heavy machinery, you will need 6 – 8 weeks. Speak to your doctor about what is advisable and remember that it is a gradual process to regain full strength. To help speed up the recovery process, physiotherapy may be recommended.
Preventing a herniated disc from recurring
A herniated disc recurs in around 15% of patients so it’s wise to reduce your risk by practicing the following:
- Avoid bending or twisting at the waist. When lifting heavy objects, bend your knees and bear the load with your legs while keeping your back straight.
- Maintain a healthy weight by eating nutritious food and doing low-impact exercises. Excess weight places additional pressure on the lower back.
- Practice good posture while walking, standing and sleeping.
- Avoid sitting for long periods; take periodic breaks to stretch.
- Avoid high-heeled shoes.
- Stop smoking.