In most cases, the pain from a herniated disc will get better within a couple days and completely resolve in 4 to 6 weeks. Restricting your activity, ice/heat therapy, and taking over the counter medications will help your recovery. The recovery time varies, depending on the underlying disease treated and your general health. You may feel pain at the site of the incision. For most people, medication or physical therapy will improve their symptoms within about 3 months.
Most people can return to work in 2 to 4 weeks or less with jobs that are not physically challenging. Others may need to wait at least 8 to 12 weeks to return to work for jobs that require heavy lifting or operating heavy machinery.
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All surgeries have some risk, including infection, bleeding, and nerve damage. If the disc isn’t removed, it can rupture again. If you suffer from degenerative disc disease, you may develop problems with other discs.
Following spinal fusion surgery, a certain amount of stiffness is to be expected. This may be permanent.
After your surgery, you’ll be given specific discharge instructions regarding when to resume normal activity and when to begin exercising. In some cases, physical therapy may be necessary. It is very important to follow your doctor’s recommendations.
Most people recover well after disc surgery, but each case is unique. Your individual outlook depends on:
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Herniated disk surgery is often very effective, and it works faster than other treatments. The success rate for microdiscectomy spine surgery is generally high, with one extensive medical study showing good or excellent results overall for 84% of people who have the procedure.
Your doctor might recommend surgery as an option for your herniated disc if:
Surgery for a lumbar (low back) herniated disc works well for many people, but not for everyone. For some people, it can get rid of all or most of their symptoms.
In a study of people who had sciatica caused by a herniated disc, the chances of having no symptoms or almost no symptoms 3 months to 2 years later was a little higher with surgery than with nonsurgical treatment. But overall most people felt better with or without surgery.
In a study of people who had 6 to 12 weeks of severe sciatica related to a herniated disc, one group was assigned to have surgery soon (the surgery group). The other group (the nonsurgical group) was assigned to try nonsurgical treatments for 6 months, followed by surgery if their symptoms didn't improve. When asked about their recovery 2 months after surgery or the start of nonsurgical treatment, people in the surgery group felt better (closer to complete recovery) than people in the nonsurgical group. But after 1 year, both treatment groups rated their recovery about the same.
If you don't choose surgery now, you can change your mind later if your symptoms haven't gotten better or have gotten worse even with other treatments. Surgery seems to work just as well if it's done within 6 months after your symptoms started.
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