Treating Back Pain With Surgery

Herniated discs are a common cause of lower back pain (LBP) and symptoms like sciatica. The spine contains discs between each vertebra to help with shock absorption and flexibility. A herniated disc occurs when 1 or more discs are ruptured or shift out of place. The damage disrupts nearby nerves, causing pain, stiffness, and other chronic symptoms. While there are multiple conservative treatment options, some severe cases will benefit from lumbar surgery. After surgery, a return to hiking on uneven surfaces can take some time.

The surgical approach

Lumbar surgery is ideal for herniated discs that cause chronic pain and do not respond to non-surgical treatment. There are different surgical techniques at the surgeon’s disposal. Some patients may require a decompression approach via laminectomy. This procedure removes part or all of the lamina to give the nerves more space. A lumbar discectomy or spinal fusion are other practical approaches. In some cases, the surgeon will fill the space with a bone graft and hold the spine in place with metal instruments. This strategy allows the vertebrae to fuse into a solid, stable bone. The type of surgery and strategy used will determine the recovery timeline.

Getting you moving early

More doctors are opting for minimally invasive surgery (MIS), a technique that uses small incisions and a scope. Opting for MIS means the patient can leave the hospital on the same day. Patients who choose minimally invasive surgery typically enjoy less bleeding, fewer complications, and a faster recovery. The type of surgery is crucial as some patients can begin to move early in recovery. Within the first 2 weeks of recovery, the patient is encouraged to walk short distances, which promotes blood flow and healing. This could be as simple as walking around the house with an assisted device or going outside briefly. After this stage, the patient will begin physical therapy (PT) to increase strength and flexibility.

Your recovery’s gradual progression

The total recovery timeline can vary slightly for decompression compared with spinal fusion surgery. However, all patients should be performing PT at the 2-week mark, with some individuals starting even earlier. As the weeks progress, the physical therapist will provide exercises and stretches to support the new changes. Patients will be able to gradually walk longer distances unassisted and without discomfort. At the 6-week mark, most patients can return to deskwork, driving, and simple chores around the house. The goal, however, is to be aware of the body’s limitations and rest as needed.

Let’s get back on the trails

Hiking is a great cardiovascular exercise with multiple benefits. Returning to hiking after lumbar surgery is possible but must be done carefully. The uneven trails can challenge the strength and stability of the lower back. There may be complications if patients return to hiking too soon after surgery. A minimally invasive surgery allows for a faster return to activities like hiking, but this is governed by the recovery process. Walking on short, slightly uneven trials is typically possible within a few months. Advanced hikes are only recommended after a full recovery. The goal during that time is to focus on improving core strength and flexibility. A strong core provides stability and support for the spine, while good flexibility allows for proper movement and reduces stress.

Return to hiking sooner

Lumbar surgery for a herniated disc can reduce pain and other symptoms associated with the condition. Using advanced minimally invasive techniques, patients can return to activities like hiking faster. A full recovery is necessary for rough terrain and longer hikes. With patience and commitment to physical therapy, herniated disc patients can regain the strength and flexibility required for hiking.