Maybe you’re a runner, or you head to a golf course every chance you get. Maybe your favorite thing to do is to go to the gym and lift weights, or maybe you’re a weekend warrior who gets together at the local high school’s field and relives your glory days by tossing a football around with neighbors and friends.
Whatever your sports passion, if you have one then it’s natural for the prospect of back surgery to have you worried that you’ll be out of commission for a long, long time. The good news is that today’s minimally invasive surgical procedures mean that is unlikely to be the case.
All you have to know to realize the truth of this is to look at professional athletes like Tiger Woods and an assortment of baseball players and others who have recently had well publicized procedures. Their ability to return to training and competition is not a result of their wealth or resources: they go to the same neck and back surgeons as everybody else does. Their ability to return to the sports that they love are a direct result of much-improved procedures that no longer require extensive tissue damage, blood loss, or pain.
Every patient is different: their anticipated recovery time will be dependent upon their existing level of health, as well as the procedure itself. Here is a general summary of what can be expected following three of the most common back surgeries.
Microdiscectomy is generally performed after conservative treatments like injections or physical therapy fail to provide relief for herniated disc. It generally involves a small incision followed by removal of the herniated disc and a small piece of bone, with the goal being opening up the space around the nerve that has been under pressure.
After lumbar microdiscectomy, most patients are able to start moderate, short-distance walking almost immediately. If physical therapy is suggested, it will start about three weeks after the procedure, and most recreational athletes who engage in non-contact sports can engage in normal activity in 6 to 8 weeks.
For those who are involved in more high impact or collision-based sports, the time frame is expected to be longer, with most being completely normal at approximately 6 months.
Lumbar decompression for stenosis
Stenosis is a degenerative spine condition in which the spinal canal narrows to the point where pressure is put on the spinal cord. Symptoms include numbness, weakness and pain, and the condition is best treated through a procedure known as decompression. Though heavy lifting is frowned upon for at least six to eight weeks, those who engage in walking, jogging or other cardiovascular activities are usually able to start returning to moderate activity about one month after surgery, and can expect a full return to normal activity at about the three or four-month mark.
Fusion surgery is recommended when patients are experiencing an instability in the spine. It involves fusing bones and vertebrae together, and as a result the healing process takes much longer. Patients looking at a fusion surgery need more patience, as they will not even be engaging in physical therapy until they reach the three-month mark.
If you are concerned about what to expect, the first step you need to take is to get a firm diagnosis and treatment plan. Contact our new jersey spine specialist to set up an appointment to come in and see us.