Spine Surgery Recovery

Posted in: discectomy recovery

Part I of my journal of recovery from discectomy and laminectomy surgery: I am going to outline what my recovery has been like and what activities I’ve been able to do as I progress.  Please note that I don’t think any two people will be exactly the same – much like no two athletes are the same and should be on exactly the same training program.  I suffered from nerve compression for 7 months before I had surgery, and I had started to lose motor function.  Medically speaking my strength and reflexes in my affected leg were severely deteriorated.  This is important because my surgeon informed me that in the recovery process first the pain would go away, then the strength and reflexes would return, and then the numbness/tingling would diminish.  He also noted there was no guarantee the last would completely disappear; it would depend on whether there was any permanent nerve damage.  So here we go …

Week 1-2:  I followed post-surgical instructions.  I was living in a hotel room since I returned to the U.S. for surgery.  I was told I should walk, avoid sitting for more than 10 minutes at a time, avoid bending and lifting and twisting, and lay down as much as possible.  I started with short 5-10 minute walks around my hotel floor, and I laid in bed most of the other time.  I made sure I got up at least every 2 hours to walk a little and move around.  As I felt more comfortable, I increased my walking and by the time I went to my two week follow-up appointment I was able to do two 30 minute walks each day (slow, maybe 27-28 min/mile pace).

Week 3:  I had my follow-up appointment at 2 weeks and was told I could start physical therapy in another week and to continue adding time to my walks slowly.

Week 4-5:  Finally! I got to go to physical therapy these weeks.  My flexibility was horrible after 7 months of not being able to bend over at all or stretch my hamstring at all.  I went 3 times per week and did stretches every day to try to get my flexibility back.  I also had some exercises to get my nerve to move through the dura that surrounds it – it was sort of stuck and would not stretch.  I basically had to start retraining my leg to straighten.  Here is a link to a video describing how to “floss” the nerve – this means to get the nerve to move within its surrounding dura.  (Just a note:  I could not get my leg anywhere near straight for the first few weeks of doing this every day – and still at week 10 have not yet been able to incorporate the head movements with the leg straightening.  It is getting better and better, but patience is necessary after damaging the nerve).


Also, during these weeks I slowly added time to my walks and got a little faster.  My the end of week 5 I was walking 5-6 miles per day (not all at one time, broken into 2 or 3 separate walks) at around 20-22 minutes/miles.  (Yes, I did get the Garmin out to see how far and at what pace I was walking).

One last bit of information, residual nerve pain is normal and will happen, often suddenly.  I had sudden shooting pains and twinges off and on through this whole time.  It is quite unnerving (no pun intended), but it is normal.  It makes you worry it is all coming back all over again, but it usually only lasts for a few seconds and is gone.  My surgeon told me this would happen as the nerve healed; but even though he prepared me for it, the first time it happened it was really scary.



2 responses to “Spine Surgery Recovery”

  1. Spencer says:

    Hi, I am in week two of post laminectomy surgery. I’ve been into triathlon for 5 years and just raced my first full on 10/11/15. No sooner was I eager to sign up for another, than by back flares on and continues to get to the point that I had to have surgery. My doc has me doing nothing for one month which is also the first post opp appt with him.

    • sjones says:

      Hey there! Take it easy, just doing walking for the first 8 weeks. You will feel considerably better around 3 months post-op.

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