6 months after Micro-discectomy for herniation between L-4/L-5 I’ve finally had a chance to run 3 miles around Rockland Lake this past Saturday. Since the surgery back in September 2009, I’ve generally been without pain and have followed doctor’s orders pretty strictly. The first month after surgery you’re told to try and work yourself up to 30-40 minutes per day of walking. By day 5 I was walking the treadmill 30 min per day. Believe it or not, walking is the best medicine for recovery. In fact, 2 weeks after surgery, I had a previously scheduled business trip to China that I couldn’t miss, so the doctor gave me the green light to fly as long as I walked the cabin every 45 minutes during the flight.
The trip was a blast, and I did a ton of walking and though residual pain and discomfort existed, it was 100 times better than the pain I went through months previous. I walked the streets of Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing. 3 weeks to the day after surgery, I stood on the Great Wall of China (Mutianyu) and did plenty of walking there. For anyone who’s been, it’s a fairly challenging hike with plenty of stairclimbing.
Upon my return and follow-up with the surgeon, he recommended 8 weeks of physical therapy to strengthen back muscles, teach me daily stretches to incorporate into my routine, work the tissue around the incision, and just get me in a condition where I could begin light weight training again.
After about week 4 (8 sessions) of PT, I felt strong enough to move forward on my own So from about February through end of March, I started hitting the gym, focusing on stretching (this is very important). 30 minutes of cardio on the elliptical, and circuit training on nautilus equipment (very light weights) and only doing lifts that my physical therapist showed me.
If I could give anyone who’s going through or is about to go through microdiscectomy you should really focus on the following things during recovery.
- Pain after surgery is normal. Usually it’s dull pain and it comes and goes. Your nerve(s) have been through something pretty traumatic and they take much much longer to heal than regular muscle tissue. Be patient!
- Walk every day – even if it’s for 20 minutes. You need to stay loose and stay away from the couch!
- Listen to your doctor and physical therapist. If they say no lifting, then don’t do it. If you have children like I do, ignore the urge to give them piggyback rides or put them up on your shoulders. Housework? Take it easy and hire someone to help. Whatever you do – DO NOT shovel snow! I did this about 4 months after surgery and paid for it for the next 3 days (hip and leg pain).
- Slowly get back into your regular work-out routine. Don’t push it. I thought I could run 3 miles a day 4 days a week like I had been but the truth is that maybe 2 days a week is realistic at first as your leg muscles and lower back are not used to the pounding a good 3 mile run give your body.
- Watch your diet. Admittedly, I put on about 10 extra lbs from the time I herniated my disk in June until just after surgery in September (4 months). This was obviously due to the lack of physical activity, time spent on the couch, or the additional alcohol I consumed in much greater amounts throughout the summer to help kill the pain!. That extra belly fat puts strain on your back and will slow your recovery.
Good luck and do your homework!
****UPDATE: Check out my blog post on my recovery after 1 year from surgery.