The First Year After My Microdiscectomy
I want to write about my recovery and lifestyle during the first 12 months after my microdiscectomy (L5S1) for those of you who are curious to know how things turned out. If you haven’t already, I recommend checking out my posts detailing my life with sciatica before surgery and my two videos I made while drugged up on painkillers during the three days after surgery (both are linked in this post). This will give you a better idea of my condition and the severity of my sciatica before the operation.
Again I need to note that I am not certified to give you medical advice so please consult your healthcare professional for your own specific situations! I just want to share my experience!
My Post Surgery Goal
The night before the surgery I wrote out a list of things I wanted the surgery to accomplish. Here they are:
- To be able to stand for more than 15 minutes at a time.
- The ability to play my musical instrument without pain.
- The ability to have a routine of physical activity and a general level of physical fitness.
- The ability to be less fearful, more confident, and, above all, to be able to be more creative and spontaneous in personal and social contexts.
My Promise to Myself:
I promised that I would NOT push myself after my mircodiscectomy. More specifically, I promised myself that I would not even attempt to start a running routine or intense physical exercise regimen until 12 months had passed.
I was quite active before my surgery and I really missed that lifestyle, and so I knew I was at risk of overdoing it to soon!
The First 60 Days:
The first month after my microdiscectomy was pretty much all about recovering from the surgery itself.
If you haven’t seen them, here are two videos I made in which I explain how I feel during the first day and third day after surgery:
I took muscle relaxants for the first two weeks or so. I stopped taking painkillers relatively early because, well, trying to poop after spinal surgery is enough of a chore, and prescription painkillers make you super constipated….I’ll let you do the math.
I had strict orders not to lift anything. I was able to shuffle around/ sort of walk during the first week, but I spent the first two weeks pretty much on the couch. I had to really limit my time sitting up straight in chairs.
I still had pain, but this time I had all this surgery recovery pain in addition to my sciatica pain. I had a lot of anxiety-ridden panics and thought that the surgery hadn’t worked.
BUT there was a good sign, well two good signs:
- I woke up from surgery laying flat on my back with my legs extended. I was still able to do that when I wasn’t on pain pills a few days later! I hadn’t been able to lay flat for over two years!
- The first post surgery SNEEZE… I started panicking. I had a surgery wound in addition to lingering pain… Oh no it was gonna hurt…I braced myself… and ….ACHOO. I reflexively winced since every sneeze during the past 2 years was absolute hell. BUT THERE WAS NO SHOOTING SCIATIC PAIN!!!! That enough made me fell, well, jubilant.
After my two week checkup, my surgeon told me that a lot of the pain was from post surgery scar tissue. The nerve also had been pinched for a long time and needed to heal. He told me to BE PATIENT.
I HATE BEING PATIENT.
At the end of the first month I took a long haul flight back to France, where I normally live.
I am a musician and I was not allowed to lift my instrument in its case for a few more weeks. I became that person who looked perfectly healthy but had to be wheeled around in a wheelchair in the airport. I took a painkiller before the flight and cried my way through every episode of Modern Family and even When Harry Met Sally.
I technically wasn’t supposed to take that flight, mainly because I wasn’t supposed to be sitting upright in a chair for a very long time. I did it anyway oops.
I had a connection and the German lady who wheeled me around parked me in the duty free to try perfumes.
Upon arrival my angel roommate drove and picked me up from the airport. Then he carried my instrument for me to school ever day with me for a few weeks. I basically owe him free pain au chocolats for the rest of his life (I hope he isn’t reading this…).
The rest of the month was spent taking it easy and just doing my school duties. It was amazing to play music again without so much pain- I had never realized how much pain I was putting up with during my performances before my microdiscectomy.
I was limited to just walking during those first months. They recommend that I walk on uneven ground (within reason) in order to try and strengthen my sense of balance.
Also they really advised me against sitting up in a chair for long periods of time. That puts a lot of pressure on your spine. I decided to do my computer work (like writing my master’s thesis) while in a semi reclining position on my bed.
2-7 Months After My Microdiscectomy
Once I recovered from the surgery itself, the hardest part was to take it easy. OK, cliche, I know, but I felt like a butterfly that had just come out of my cocoon!
Now let me be clear: I still had a lot of sciatic pain. I still had to be sure to keep my torso straight. I still made everyone carry things for me. I still felt fragile, and, above all, I was terrified that I would just stop feeling better and reverse back into the pit of pain. It felt like I was slowly climbing out of a tunnel: you’re so excited as you see the light at the end of the tunnel (aka relief from pain), but at the same time you are terrified you will fall back down to where you started.
My pain mainly was from when I tried to bend my torso to pick something up off the ground and also when I needed to adjust myself while laying down. There were still moments where a slight movement of my hips in the wrong direction would send shooting pain down my leg.
But there was another pain I didn’t expect…
Sorry, boys, this doesn’t apply to you. It’s just a detail, but when you take pain meds every day for 2+ years and then suddenly stop, well, enjoy your first bout of MENSTRUAL CRAMPS. I did NOT miss those.
After my microdiscectomy, I was so happy that I could finally stand for long periods of time. It felt amazing to spend an afternoon at a museum without having to search for a chair every 15 minutes. I could go to bars or concerts where I needed to stand all evening. I could DANCE (albeit very badly and carefully). So, yes. This was a wonderful time where I was able to piece a social life back together. Even more, it was a time when I started to separate and move on from my old self: the “girl with really bad sciatica”.
8-12 Months After My Microdiscectomy
I was starting my final year of school and I felt ready to take on the year with, well, less pain.
That’s the thing: I still had moderate pain even 8 months after my microdiscectomy. Sometimes the pain was rather severe. Sometimes it was less frustrating. Regardless, it still was there.
So, if you had the surgery and still aren’t seeing the results you want even after 8 months, don’t lose hope.
I joined a gym!
I joined the cheapest gym in pretty much all of France. BUT… I still stayed true to my promise of no running or ultra intense fitness regimens.
I went nearly 6 days a week. I only used the elliptical or stationary bicycle at low resistance levels. Sometimes I did very low intensity strength training. I was sure to stretch, but I still stayed away from yoga because I just didn’t feel ready. I think I still had the memory of my worst pain fresh in my head because just the idea of doing certain yoga poses made me cringe. They may have been ok at the time, but I just couldn’t try.
It was so thrilling to experience my first “exercise high” in years. I was literally bouncing off the walls with energy for weeks on end.
12 Months after my microdiscectomy, I was already feeling like a completely different person. I was so thankful that the operation worked and reduced so much of my pain.
I still had a lot of healing to do, but I already felt like I had gotten my life back.
I am extremely lucky and thankful for my positive experience after my mircodiscectomy, and I hope that this was somewhat informative for those of you out there who are suffering from sciatica. Don’t give up!
pssssst…another year passed. Check out my post detailing my life 2 years after my microdiscectomy here!