Walking After Disc Surgery

A lumbar herniated disc is a common reason for chronic lower back pain. Intervertebral discs play a critical role in supporting the spine and enhancing flexibility. However, due to injury or wear and tear, a disc can slip out of its natural location, pressing on nearby nerves. This condition can create unpleasant symptoms like lower back pain, leg nerve pain, and lower body weakness. While many cases respond well to conservative treatments, such as painkillers and physical therapy (PT), some patients need surgery to correct the issue. Many patients are eager to find out when walking again is possible after surgery.

What to expect during surgery

Depending on the exact diagnosis, an orthopedic surgeon can use different techniques to relieve the pressure on the affected nerves. For instance, the surgeon may perform a microdiscectomy, which removes the herniated portion of the disc from the spine. Moreover, a discectomy may be performed to remove the entire disc. Finally, disc removal may be combined with spinal fusion or an artificial disc replacement. Most disc procedures last several hours.

Minimally invasive benefits

Recently, spinal surgeries have been benefitting from minimally invasive techniques. With minimally invasive surgery (MIS), the surgeon only needs to make 2-3 small incisions the size of a buttonhole. The surgeon can then use an arthroscope and small tools to view and remove the damaged disc. MIS has several advantages, including same-day surgery, fewer infections, and more minor scars. Moreover, MIS has a faster recovery, which is crucial in how soon the patient will walk again.

Walking again after surgery

On average, a lumbar herniated disc surgery requires up to 8 weeks for a full recovery. With a spinal fusion, the recovery time can take even longer. However, most patients can begin moving soon after surgery. Several hours after the procedure, the doctor will encourage the patient to get up and walk a short distance. This walk plays a crucial role in kickstarting circulation and preventing blood clots. The patient may only be able to move for 10-15 minutes based on health and fitness levels. As recovery progresses, this timeframe will gradually increase. In many cases, a physical therapist will support the patient, providing additional exercises to improve mobility.

Recovery matters

A lumbar herniated disc surgery can provide long-term relief from lower back and leg pain. While most patients are concerned about mobility, walking short distances after surgery is possible and recommended. In the weeks after surgery, periodic checks with the doctor will determine if the patient can return to work or normal activities. Due to the high success rate of disc surgery, some patients only need a few weeks to begin walking long distances again without discomfort.