Low back pain affects nearly everyone at some point in their life. For some, it is a temporary condition that gets better with rest. But for others, surgery may be the only option. The good news is there are lower back exercises after discectomy that can help you recover and get back on your feet.
The exercises you do immediately following a lumbar microdisectomy will consist of basic mobility movements prescribed by your doctor. Shortly thereafter, you can begin a program of low-impact walking, and eventually, core exercises to strengthen your abdominals and lower back.
What Is Lumbar Discectomy?
If you have herniated disc material pressing on the spinal cord or nerve root in the lower back, doctors may perform a minimally invasive procedure called lumbar discectomy to fix the problem. Many surgeons will use a special microscope to view the disc and nerves, which allows them to use a smaller incision to prevent less damage to the surrounding tissue, according to the Cleveland Clinic. This method is called a microdiscectomy.
Even though most people return home the same day after surgery, microdiscectomy recovery time can take several months. When it comes to heading back to work, the University of Washington Health says you may need to make plans to be off for two to six weeks, depending on the work you do. If you do any heavy lifting at work or for exercise, this needs to be put on hold for 12 weeks. And as always, check with your doctor before returning to work or the gym.
Before you jump back into a regular fitness routine, make sure to consult with your physician and physical therapist about the best way to move from supervised rehab exercises to a more traditional workout program. If you begin high-impact activity too soon, you may put too much strain on the affected area and consequently, jeopardize your recovery.
Microdiscectomy Recovery Exercises
In the 24 to 48 hours following lumbar microdiscectomy, you will be supervised by your doctor and care team. They will lead any mobility exercises you need to perform post-surgery. After you leave the hospital, it's up to you to follow through with your physical therapy appointments and work at home to improve your strength.
When it comes to working out, Dr. Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS, tells LIVESTRONG.com that if you return to exercise too quickly, you risk re-injury or permanent damage. That's why strictly adhering to a prescribed rehab routine and performing any exercises your doctor recommends will help you regain mobility and move you closer to your goal of getting back to working out.
Typically, your physician will recommend outpatient microdiscectomy recovery exercises with a physical therapist within a few weeks after surgery.
"Scar tissue begins to form quickly after surgery, so the quicker you begin regaining flexibility after a procedure has a better long term outcome for full function," explains Conrad. To prevent this, Conrad says the post-surgical disc protocol typically includes improving range of motion in the lumbar spine.
During the early recovery period, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons says your surgeon or physical therapist may recommend that you exercise for 10 to 30 minutes, one to three times a day. As with any post-surgical activities, if you develop sharp, stabbing or tingling pain, discontinue the activity and consult your physician immediately.
Lower Back Exercises After Discectomy
In addition to any specific microdiscectomy recovery exercises recommended by your doctor, Conrad says you can also begin a program of low-impact walking. Even though walking is very gentle on the back, being conservative is better than doing too much too soon. With that in mind, start by walking a short distance and gradually work your way up to a few miles a day.
Once you can tolerate flexibility and balance training activities, Conrad says therapeutic exercises to strengthen the core muscles are introduced into the protocol. "This is typically two to four weeks post-surgery for in-office exercises, but more complicated cases may vary," he explains. "Post recovery exercising at the gym could take 10 to 14 weeks from the date of the surgery, depending on its severity and your progress with in-office treatments," adds Conrad.
Even when you're feeling better and want to resume a more traditional fitness routine, Conrad says to be careful with exercises that put the body at its end range of motion or involve twisting, These exercises are considered high-risk even after you've recovered.
"High-risk post discectomy exercises include deadlifts, squats, sit-ups, leg lowering lower abs movements, oblique twisting movements, and class activities like kickboxing or some Pilates movements that require lumbar twisting," he explains.
Many people who compete in athletic events or competitive activities often wonder if they will be cleared to return to play after the recovery process. The Cleveland Clinic says that recreational athletes in non-collision sports can possibly return to competition as early as six to eight weeks.
However, if your activity is considered a collision sport, which is a sport where you purposely hit or collide with another person or object such as the ground, you may be asked to sit out for three to six months.
- Montgomery County Chiropractic Center: "Dr. Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS: Personal Interview"
- Cleveland Clinic: "How You Can Return to Sports After Back Surgery"
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Low Back Surgery Guidel"
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: "Low Back Pain Fact Sheet"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Surgical Options for Back Pain"
- University of Washington Health: "What to Expect After Your Lumbar Microdiscectomy"