L5-S1 Laminectomy Recovery – 4 weeks!

4 weeks ago I had back surgery (L5-S1 laminectomy). Recovery from back surgery is not a quick event.  But, I can feel progress for sure.


Memorial Day Walk
My walk to Law St. Park – a bit of a milestone.

Update on my Laminectomy Recovery

It almost feels like when you wake from having the flu.  Days of misery and then, when it breaks, you feel new.  My body feels very good.  Am I 100%?  No.  This is a L5-S1 laminectomy recovery; not the flu.  But, this is the best I’ve felt in months.

There is still numbness and muscle loss.  There is no pain.

I’m doing much better and life is returning to normal.

Pain, Muscle Loss and Numbness

A herniated disc can hurt.  That was certainly true for me.  Pain is not a reason for surgery.  In my case, I had loss of muscle use in my right leg.  The pain was so much that I didn’t know about it at first.  Similarly, I didn’t know I was numb.  Now that I’ve had the surgery, the pain is gone and I now can sense the numbness and muscle issues a lot more.

Well, in the past 4 weeks, my numbness is a lot better.  I can feel one of my toes again.  When I sit, I have a lot more sensation.  My thigh may have almost 50% more sensation now.

Muscle loss is the main reason I had the surgery.  Right away after the laminectomy, I got some back.  It is hard to tell how much I’ve gotten back, but I know I can walk better and recruit more muscles.  The hard thing is that when I try to fire some of my muscles; nothing happens.  But, since I’ve been doing some isometric exercises, I can tell that my muscles are recruiting better.  I can also tell in my walking that both my form and pace are better.

I’m very happy that I’ve not needed any pain killers for over a week now.

Walking

My walking has gotten better in a couple of ways.  It is hard to tell the difference day to day, but over time I can tell.  My daughter just said to me, “Daddy, you are walking the same speed as me again.”.  That might be hard to measure, but it sure made me happy.

I’ve started to do two things to measure my walking.  First, I use accupedo on my phone as a pedometer.  Second, I use Strava from my phone every day or so.  My daily average number of steps is going up for approximately the same amount of time (accupedo).  My pace is also getting better (Strava).  According to Strava, my pace is around 12:30/km today and it was 14:20/km 2 weeks ago.  It is not a race, but those are things I can see and understand.

My step counts started in the hundred for the first few days.  Then I got to about 4000/day.  From weeks 2-3 I was doing 6-7000/day.  Saturday I made it to the beach.  Less than a mile away, but still my biggest single walk.  Two days ago, I went to a park by the beach, along the park and back home.  That was hard, but brought my daily step count about 10,000.

Yesterday I was sore.  Sore in a good, “I used my muscles” way.  My muscles ache, but it is not the back pain or sciatica pain I’ve had.  Progress.

I still remember there is a fine line between not enough and too much.

Accupedo step counts for week:

laminectomy-walking-week4

Shoes

Shoes are part of walking, but I think this deserves a call out.  Flip flops are known not to be a good walking show, but getting shoes on was next to imposible.  Now, I am able to get socks on (that is still hard) and I am able to get slip on shoes on.

So, now that I can get shoes on, I think my walking is even better.

Sitting

Sitting is an odd thing.  I can now sit in a chair much better.  The big test is going to friends houses  or having friends over for dinner.  Not long ago, I couldn’t sit for more than 20-30 minutes.  Now I am making it through the meal.

I’m also back at my office for work.  I stand and walk much more, but I can also sit more.

Sitting has been hard from the numbness and mush muscles in my leg, but both are better and I’m much more comfortable sitting.

Next on the agenda is a sit/stand desk to make my work environment more ergonomic.

Next In My Recovery

The initial prognosis was that I would start some water therapy at 4 weeks.  After the surgery, Dr. Bawa said that it was severe enough that I am now on a six week program.  So, I’m taking it easy.  Not bending, twisting or carrying weight for a few more weeks.  That becomes a huge mental challenge.  There are physical aspects to it, but I am feeling good and want to do more.  I am following directions and will wait.  I’m happy to walk again and am making progress.  No reason to push it.

I still have not driven, but I don’t need to.  So, I’m not pushing it. I’m working from home (which is normal) and can walk to where I want to go.  I’m ready, and hopeful, to return to the life I want.  I am happy I can do what I can do again today.

  8 comments for “L5-S1 Laminectomy Recovery – 4 weeks!

  1. Karl Brand
    June 23, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    Wow! I am going through the same thing! I have some loss in my right leg particularly climbing stairs or inclines. No BLTs either–bending lifting or twisting—but everyday a little better. You’re right–it’s incremental and sometimes the walking is smooth. After bumpy rides I feel it for sure. I go to the Dr.s in a few days to have a follow up X-ray and evaluation. I had my surgery 5 weeks ago today and am very anxious to get better. The slow progress is excruciating, but I must remain patient. Anyhow—thanks for the post. One question though—when I roll over at night I sometimes hear a popping sound in my back—like a knuckle crack—is that okay? Anyone know?

  2. Karl Brand
    June 23, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    Wow! I am going through the same thing! I have some loss in my right leg particularly climbing stairs or inclines. No BLTs either–bending lifting or twisting—but everyday a little better. You’re right–it’s incremental and sometimes the walking is smooth. After bumpy rides I feel it for sure. I go to the Dr.s in a few days to have a follow up X-ray and evaluation. I had my surgery 5 weeks ago today and am very anxious to get better. The slow progress is excruciating, but I must remain patient. Anyhow—thanks for the post. One question though—when I roll over at night I sometimes hear a popping sound in my back—like a knuckle crack—is that okay? Anyone know?

  3. June 25, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    My back cracks like that all the time. Ok? Sort of. It is the tendons around the back telling you they are too tight. They are tight from not using the muscles that normally keep them loose. As you rebuild and strengthen, it should get better. To me, they are a very scarey noise. That said, ask you Dr/Physical therapist.

  4. Asha Johnson
    November 19, 2016 at 4:31 pm

    I’ve had a laminectomy on my L4-L5. I’m 5 weeks out. It’s been very painful and had recovery. I’m still in pain meds. I can walk more but not as much as I thought I would. My dr said to take easy still. My back makes popping noises a lot as well as muscle spasms a lot lately. I’m holding the surgery went good. I don’t have leg pain or numbness anymore but bad new pain. Don’t know if it’s just from surgery pain or what. I’ve gotten better just really slow. I worry that I won’t get back to normal. Is it common for some to just take longer than others to recover?

    • November 21, 2016 at 11:21 am

      It is normal for recoveries to take different amounts of time. I think it is also normal for pain to change locations. If the pain is centralizing, moving toward to spine, that is considered a good thing.

      I’ve had 2 laminectomies now; both were very different. The first involved a lot of new pains and many months to make significant progress. This second one I felt great that days and was off pain meds in less than 48 hours.

      Think about comparing how you feel after 3 months and then again at 6 months. I’ll bet you are pleased.

  5. Chris White
    February 23, 2018 at 12:40 pm

    Before I had my L4-5 laminectomy in 2012, I was in constant pain while awake for 9 months, relieved with Norco 10/235 1 tab every 6 hours and Ice to my low back. The surgery went well, I was out shopping the same day. I was taken off the pain medication at my first post-op visit and was told to take ibuprofen. It took 2 months after the surgery for the residual nerve pain to resolve. I am back to my normal activities and have to be mindful not to re-injure my back.

    • February 26, 2018 at 8:10 am

      Chris – that is great! Going from debilitating pain back to normal life makes you appreciate things. Glad to hear your success story.

  6. JIm
    November 27, 2018 at 10:38 am

    I just had my L5-S1 laminectomy…. cages, graft, fusion etc on 11/13/18. Darn glad that I had the procedure finally. I’m in pain still …. but its 90% surgical related. Itching to get back to work….but I realize that bone grows at it’s own pace can’t push it …best advice for anyone recovery planning for this procedure. Slow is fast…. go extra slow at first…find your legs etc….then build upon that.

    I had C4/C5 done by same neurosurgeon last year, fantastic results …… I owe this guy majorly.

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