A herniated disc can result in severe back, neck, arm or leg pain. The disc is composed of a tough outer later and a squishy interior. As we get older, this interior material loses water and becomes thinner and more prone to injury. Problems occur when a disc is compressed through injury or age and squeezes a nearby nerve. If the injured disc is in the lower back or lumbar region, it could injure the sciatic nerve, the longest nerve in the body, which runs from the hip to the big toe in both legs. This causes severe pain and weakness in the legs, sometimes making it impossible to walk.
If your doctor recommends surgery, he will perform a discectomy to remove the herniated disc material pressing on the nerve. If the nerve is behind a vertebra, he may need to remove or shave a small piece of the bone to get better access to the nerve. This procedure is called a laminectomy. These procedures take a few hours and are generally done in a hospital with the patient under general anesthesia.
A few hours after you awaken from anesthesia and are no longer groggy, your doctor will ask you to try getting out of bed and taking a few steps by yourself. Often, after surgery, the patient will notice a marked decrease in her level of pain. The injured nerve is free and, therefore, no longer inflamed. Patients are usually released from the hospital within 24 hours after surgery.
Since herniated disc surgery often involves moving the muscles surrounding the nerve, you will feel a little soreness there, as well as on the incision site. But with proper care, that soreness will quickly go away. Your doctor will prescribe pain medication to help you during your recovery period.
For the first two weeks you may find it difficult to sit for more than 20 minutes at a time. Walking should be your primary means of exercise. It will help prevent too much scar tissue from forming around the nerve as well as keep your heart and lungs healthy. If you had surgery in the lumbar region, you may find walking with a cane very helpful. Your doctor may also prescribe gentle stretches. These will help the muscles that were pulled during surgery heal quicker and help you regain the mobility you lost before surgery.
If you work in an office and don't do too much lifting, you can return to work in about two to four weeks. If your job involves heavy lifting or working heavy machinery, you may return to work in four to eight weeks.