8 Tips for Recovering from Herniated Disc Surgery

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Mary Elizabeth Dallas on November 22, 2020
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    Take time to prepare before surgery.
    The time to start preparing for your recovery from surgery to repair a herniated disc is now—before you have the surgery. It will help make sure your recovery goes as smoothly as possible. There are several things you can do ahead of time. There are also ways you can protect your back and help your body heal after the procedure. Here's what you need to know.
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    1. Plan ahead.
    You’ll be able to walk after your surgery, but you can't drive for a while. So, arrange for someone to take you home from the hospital. Also, enlist a friend or relative to drive you wherever you'll need to go for a few days. After surgery, it’s important to keep your spine straight. You have to be careful about how you move around, sit and stand. Plan for this by adjusting your furniture and workspace so you don’t have to bend down or reach for things. Routine tasks—getting dressed, doing laundry, cleaning—may be hard for a few days. Plan ahead and find people to help you.
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    2. Avoid too much sitting.
    After surgery, you may be in some pain and your doctor might give you a brace to wear. It may be tempting to just sit and rest, but don't sit for too long for the first few weeks after your procedure. Riding in a car for a long time also puts too much strain on your back. Unless you’re going to see your doctor, avoid long trips in the car for at least one week after surgery. Instead of sitting, it’s important to get up and walk around after surgery.
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    3. Be patient.
    It may take several weeks before you can go back to doing all of your normal activities after herniated disc surgery. You may notice less pain soon after the surgery. If you’re in a lot of discomfort, take pain medications as directed by your doctor. However, it often takes more time for other symptoms, such as numbness or weakness, to improve.
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    4. Take it slowly.
    You shouldn’t do anything more strenuous than walking or climbing stairs for the first few weeks after surgery. Increase the intensity of your exercise routine gradually as your symptoms improve. It’s normal to feel tired after surgery. Remember, you will regain energy over time. Starting an exercise program designed to strengthen your back and belly muscles can help ease your pain and boost your stamina. Your doctor may recommend swimming or using an exercise bike or treadmill.
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    5. Avoid back strain.
    It’s important not to put unnecessary strain on your back after herniated disc surgery. Avoid bending at the waist for two to four weeks after the procedure. Do not twist your body. Don't lift objects heavier than five pounds. Also, there are ways you can take some pressure off your back as it heals. Put a pillow between your knees when you’re lying on your side. Bend and lift with your hips and legs—not your back.
  • Fiber Rich Foods
    6. Make your diet a healthy one.
    Eating healthy is a big part of recovery after surgery. You might not feel very hungry after your procedure. This is not unusual. Even so, it’s important to drink enough fluids and get enough nutrients to help your body heal. Also, taking certain pain medicines and being less active can lead to constipation. Straining on the toilet can put pressure on your back. Drinking fluids and eating a fiber-rich diet can help prevent this. If needed, your doctor may also suggest you take a stool softener for the first several days after surgery.
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    7. Get follow-up care.
    It’s important to go to all of your follow-up medical appointments after herniated disc surgery. Your doctor will check your back a week or two after surgery to make sure your recovery is going well. Your doctor will also check your incision site for signs of infection or other complications. You might need to have stitches removed. As your recovery progresses, your doctor may also recommend specific back exercises.
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    8. Don’t ignore warning signs.
    All surgeries come with risks. Herniated disc surgery is considered safe, but problems can develop. This could include infection, numbness, weakness and bleeding. Don’t ignore things like pain that gets worse, high fever and chills, bleeding, swelling or drainage from your incision. Be aware of any numbness or weakness in your legs. Pain in your calf or chest could also be a warning sign of a serious health issue. These problems are more likely in the first few weeks after surgery. Call your doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms. 
8 Tips for Recovering from Herniated Disc Surgery
Herniated Disc Surgery

About The Author

  1. Herniated Disk in the Lower Back. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00534
  2. Herniated Disk Surgery. Temple University Hospital. http://neuro.templehealth.org/content/diskectomy.htm
  3. Herniated Lumbar Disc. North American Spine Society. http://www.knowyourback.org/Pages/SpinalConditions/DegenerativeConditions/HerniatedLumbarDisc.aspx#after
  4. Microdiscectomy. University of Southern California. http://www.uscspine.com/treatment/microdiscectomy.cfm
  5. Preparing for Low Back Surgery. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00597
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Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 22
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.