Herniated Disc Surgery Recovery

By Sally Ann Quirke, Chartered Physiotherapist | Filed under: Herniated Disc


Herniated Disc Surgery
Take the steps to prepare for surgery and following treatment.
Are you concerned about your herniated disc surgery recovery?
If you are require herniated disc surgery, you may well wonder what the recovery from this surgery involves.

Thankfully, I have successfully resolved hundreds of herniated disc problems manually over my years as a Chartered Physiotherapist. However, part of my job also involves rehabilitating patients who have already had to undergo surgery for a herniated disc.

If you have suffered, or are suffering from a herniated disc, then you understand just how painful and debilitating it can be. It has the ability to put your life on hold in both your work and home life - not to mention the damage it can cause. I recommend avoiding spinal surgery whenever possible and exploring other treatment options first. However, surgery can be a necessary treatment which will help you get back to living your life! The important thing in these cases is that you can do is take the steps to prepare for surgery and following treatment.

Preparing for surgery

What’’s involved in recovering from herniated disc surgery.

Firstly, it will depend on what type of disc surgery you had. It will depend on the extent of tissue removed and the condition of the remaining discs and joints in your spine.

Treatment prior to surgery involves:
  1. Maintaining the movement in your surrounding joints and soft tissues.
  2. Maintaining and improving the strength in your spinal muscles.
  3. Educating yourself with regard to the exact nature of your injury, and what will be involved in your rehabilitation. Understand your condition and the reasoning behind rehabilitation - this will help motivate you in achieving a more effective healing.
Treatment Following Surgery involves:
  1. Mobilising your spinal joints and tissues: As indicated by the extent of your operation and where you are in the healing process. If only a small amount of a disc material has been removed and your back is otherwise healthy your recovery under the guidance and education of a chartered physiotherapist should be quick and relatively painless. If however you have had a large amount of a disc removed and you suffer with other aspects of your spine, your recovery may take longer and require more attention.

  2. Pre-operative health: This always influences a recovery from any form of surgery. If you have other health concerns or spinal problems, you should discuss these with the surgeon or therapist responsible for your disc surgery.

  3. Post-operative health: complications can occur post operatively and may affect your recovery. However, when managed well hopefully no long term problems will result.

  4. Diligence to exercises: It is of great importance that you perform your pre and post operative exercises diligently and well. Long after your back pain symptoms have disappeared your attention to your exercises must continue. This ensures no further complications or pain arising from poor performance in your rehabilitation.

  5. Nutrition: Eating well and taking supplements where indicated will help in your tissues’ recovery. Seek advice from a well qualified nutritionalist if you have concerns in this area.

  6. Strengthening your core muscles to reduce the risk of any further injury or pain. Stability and strengthening exercises are a necessity to your recovery. Pilates taught well is my programme of choice.

  7. Educating you towards good posture is fundamental for the long term management of your spine.

I would like to share with you an example of a patient with a herniated disc that presented to my clinic…

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Herniated Disc Surgery - Molly’s story

Molly* came to me suffering with constant severe neck pain which resulted from a herniated disc that she already had for six months. She already spent over 3,000 euro to date on various manual therapies in her attempt to resolve her pain. Unfortunately, she has had no ease from her severe constant neck and arm pain. She said that she wanted to exhaust everything before considering surgery for her herniated disc. She had minimal sleep at night and was exhausted and depressed from both her pain and the medication she had been taking for months now. Her family were suffering and her relationships were deteriorating as Molly’s complaints continued. Molly was unable to work.

After a 45 minute assessment, examination of her MRI scan and consultation with her doctor, I advised Molly to consider immediate surgery - no manual therapy would resolve her pain, in my opinion, without the damaged disc material being removed first.

The reason that I advised Molly to take this path was due to the type of disc herniation that she had. It had oozed excessively to one side and was affecting her nervous system excessively. She had an absent reflex in her wrist on the affected side - which is a serious neurological finding. She had constant pain, numbness and pins and needles in her arm also - which again is neurological sign that gave cause for concern.

So, weighing all this up - and considering the minimal help that manual therapy could offer Molly at that time, I advised her to consult with a surgeon and discuss surgical options. Once she chose to go have a discectomy, I then helped her prepare for the operation in consultation with her surgeon.

Following her discectomy, Molly telephoned some weeks later - she was excited and happy that her arm pain had fully resolved and her neck was also so much better (but still achy after the procedure). We then planned a session for two weeks later to start a program of back strengthening exercises, in which we assessed her condition and commenced mobilisation and post operative exercises.

Her recovery has been remarkable, and she is like a different person to what which I first met before her operation.

* The patient’s name has been changed to Molly for the purposes of this article


While the content and materials contained in the articles on this website have been written & researched by Sally Ann Quirke, a professional, practising & fully qualified Chartered Physiotherapist (Physical Therapist) based in Ireland, they are provided for general information and educational purposes only. They do not constitute medical advice on any particular individual situation. Please see your Chartered Physiotherapist or other medical practitioner for full and individual consultation.

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