I just passed the 6-month mark of my L4/L5 Discectomy so I thought now would be a good time to discuss my progress. Just a quick recap before getting into how things are today: In early June 2015, during a routine tying-of-the-shoe I badly tweaked my lower back. By the next day, a crippling Sciatica had set-in which confined me to a bed for weeks. Luckily, I had an up to date MRI so an Orthopedic surgeon quickly diagnosed a herniated L4/L5 and I was wisked off to the operating room for a lumbar Discectomy. Fast forward six months and here I am, resting fairly comfortably typing out an update.
I returned to work after 3 weeks (which was way too soon – you should give yourself at least a month) but sitting was, and still is difficult. The pain associated with a bulged disc pushing on my Sciatic nerve disappeared after surgery, but there’s still a soreness and stiffness around the incision site. If I sit for more than 20 minutes, the soreness turns into an intense burning probably caused by inflamed tissue around the shaved disc. I’ve come to expect this when I sit and no amount of straightening or support helps to ease the pain. Secondly, I’ve got some numbness in my foot where my nerves took the brunt of the Sciatic pain. After the Discectomy, my neurosurgeon said the numbness should disappear but so far it hasn’t and at times all my toes lose sensation especially when I’m standing. As the British Association of Spine Surgeons points out “Symptoms of numbness or weakness may well persist after surgery”
On the positive side, I can walk without much trouble and there’s no intense ‘zinging’ pain down my leg. Walking also helps to stretch out the back after sitting for more than 20 minutes and it relieves the burning. Laying down is almost as comfortable as walking but I still need to shift weight towards my right (non surgery) side to reduce the pressure on the affected area. All told, I’m far from recovered but with careful planning I can get through the day. As this Oregon Health and Science study points out, recovery from a Lumbar discectomy can take longer than the three weeks that most physicians outline. More like 2-3months…and from my experience full recovery could take much longer than that.
Here’s a few tips that have helped my back improve.
1. Stretch, and then stretch some more. It seems obvious but the right physio exercises at the start of the day can make the difference between suffering and manageable. Matty Fusaro demonstrates the one ‘upward dog’ style stretch that I do consistently throughout the day. I’ve been told by chiropractors and physiotherapists that this stretch pushes the disc laterally back in towards the spine reducing nerveroot compression. Another helpful video series through spine universe shows three excercises used to decompress discs and strengthen lower back muscles
2. Accupuncture/Accupressure. Regular visits for Acupuncture have really helped reduce inflammation in my lower back. I go for acupuncture once every 2 weeks and it’s helped me sit longer and sleep better. One recent study shows that 18000 people have reported significant pain relief through acupuncture. My Nayoya Accupressure mat has been a real god-send. 10 minutes a day is enough to reduce that heavy load on my lower back.
3. Anti-inflammatory meds/suppliments. Though I generally stay away from over the counter Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), I will take an Advil from time to time to reduce inflammation. But on a daily basis, I find turmeric and Omega 3 Fish Oil (high EPA +500) really help keep the heat down. I always look for natural pain relief as much as possible. Also, topical ointments such as voltarin and bio-freeze are good for reducing inflammation but the one that works the best is Sandhi Sudha, a smelly but amazingly effective Ayurvedic oil from India.
As always, these tips are what have worked for me but please consult your doctor before trying. Keep well!