Running after Back Surgery

Hi everyone.

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 I underwent a left sided L4/5 Microdiscectomy in January of this year following a severe disc extrusion which had damaged my L5 nerve root - this led to a loss of sensation over my lower left leg and foot plus a loss of most of my toe and foot extensor muscle strength. The operation went well and my muscle strength has now improved a lot although my calf is still pretty numb.....

My surgeon was pretty vague about when I could get back to running (I did 3 1/2 marathons last year and a few 10ks) but said I should leave it at least 3 months post op. It is now 5 months and I have been doing lots of swimming and core stability exercises to try to strengthen my spine.... has anyone else had experience of running after spinal surgery? How long did you leave it and did it flare up your back pain? 

 I tried a gentle 3 mile run with my club last night and I feel stiff today and my spine is tender but not too painful...not much worse than usual really. I am a Chiropractor (oh the irony!) so know a lot about spinal mechanics etc. just wanted advice from people who've had similar ops.

 All tips gratefully received!



  • Hi Catherine

    No spinal surgery myself but i know one of the regular posters here's wife had a micro d and she does triathlons now so it can be done.

    I think the key is take it slowly... maybe start back with a walk/run programme and gradually build up from there and listen to your body, you don't want to risk a set back by pushing too much too early and no getting away from the fact that running is quite hard on the lumber spine.

    i think you're doing all the right things though with the swimming and core work - keep that up.

  • fat buddhafat buddha ✭✭✭
    my missus had a L3/4 microdiscectomy some years ago and has since gone on to run marathons and compete in triathlons up to Ironman distance - she wasn't really a runner before the op either!

    you'll need to keep working on your core muscles and focus on those around the lower back to build strength back - and be patient as it will take some time and the danger is you overcook it.

    she still gets some residual pain which is to be expected and as long as she keeps doing the core work it's no big deal for her.

    good luck

  • glad you jumped in FB, was you i was referring too...
  • Thanks Guys, that's really helpful image

     I will concentrate on the swimming for a while I think, I don't want to put myself back. If I can get strong enough to do a triathalon I will be super chuffed - your wife is an inspiration FB!

  • Good luck Catherine. Got chronic back probs myself and its no funimage
  • fat buddhafat buddha ✭✭✭
    "your wife is an inspiration FB!"

    and fyi - she was beyond 50 when she did those marathons and IM.......she had the op in her late 40's....

    I would also find out what the cause of the prolapse was as getting back to running isn't for everyone who's had a disc out. a mate of mine had a disc out a couple of years ago but the cause of his problem was bone degeneration. basically his spinal bones are falling apart (slowly of course!). he was told after his op that running was definitely out as the impact was only exacerbating the problem - he can bike OK but no running.
  • hi all, I also had back surgery back in january 2010, i had spinal decompression surgery at l4/l5 and l5/s1.

    I was told at the time that i could be running in as little as 6 weeks, but it prooved not to be the case. it took me about 3 and half month of swimming, a lot of walking, and sticking to my physio exercises before plucking up the currage for a light jog. I've upped each jog by about by a couple of minutes at a time. i'm now up to about 25 minutes again without stopping, which i'm very pleased with, because at one point i was starting to think that i wouldn't run again.

     i don't think i'll ever get anywhere near the running that i used to do, but have a goal to do another half marathon again at some point.

    The advice i would give to anyone who's had back surgery and keen to get back  running, is be very patient and stick to your core work, do plenty of walking, and when you do start light jogging take it very slow in the early stages and enjoy it rather than push yourself to hard. i'm now into my 6th month post op and my back is still very tender at times, and i have to be very careful on a daily basis, but i believe i'm getting there slowly.

  • Microdiscectomy L5/S1 on 2nd June 2011 , surgery went well and I am back to work after 2 weeks of boredom in the house.  I wanted to know if anyone had a schecule I could use and I want to aim to run an Ultra next year, I know walk before I can run and all that.

    But when is it safe for me to start waling/running/training again, NEED HELP!

  • fat buddhafat buddha ✭✭✭
    KJ - take advice from the surgeon who did the work, although most will just give you generic answers as to when you can do things and that doesn't always fit.

    the key is to do things slowly and gently and listen to your body. you should be OK walking but don't go thinking of a long walk in the hills just yet!! just ease your way back in. you might want to think about exercises which aren't load bearing such as cycling or swimming as that will reduce impact on the back.

    look at doing some core exercises that focuses on the deep abdominal muscles around the spine - improving them will help your back stability. Pilates is good for this but as above, don't go balls out - take it easy. Pilates instructors usually have good experience with back issues and improving core stability - go sound one out and perhaps join a beginners class to start with to learn the techniques.

    one thing NOT to do is what my missus did - start pushing big weights in the gym 3 months after her op - she wrecked her back muscles and ligaments that way as she was too impatient and it took her another 6 months to get back on track.

    you will undoubtedly get residual discomfort - that is inevitable - but as long as you're sensible, you should be fine.

    good luck

  • Thanks to you all I had back sergery and am going to run .after not running for 2 years iam 56 and pray , it will go good I have done core core day and night ,
  • i've just done 2 half marathons in the last month at keswick and kirkudbright and got round ok with no further back problems, so i'm quite pleased because at one point i thought i'd never do anyone coming back after surgery, be patient and don't rush it.

  • Hi All,

    Interesting reading these threads. Am 35 and had L4/L5 microdissectomy surgery back in 2008. I had an extremely bad disc bulge (from kicking a soccer ball image, and nerve damage to S1,2&3, some of which has recovered and other parts that haven't. Before surgery I used to be into running, swimming, yoga and cycling - it was a real blow to feel to incapacitated but I didn't have much choice on the surgery thing. Afterwards I was told by the Physio never to run again.

    I have taken things very slow on the recovery after many, many set backs. All I can recommend is taking things very slowly and letting your body heal if you are in pain due to your back. Don't push through. I have just started easing into running on a tread mill again after a year at the gym doing low resistance cardio on the elliptical and bike, with strength training. Actually I had the most trouble returning to swimming as I experience foot cramps that won't give up after only 1km. I also stay away from yoga classes now - only practice poses at home that I have worked out are safe and helpful as yoga can be quite dangerours due to the twisting poses. So far returning to running has been great and good to read the sucess stories from post-surgery runners, so I will continue although only to maintain fitness - no grand plans of marathons.

    Only one other thing for all those with back injuries thinking on running through. There are some very important nerves in control of things like bladder and bowel function so if you are experiencing serious, chronic back pain be careful and have it checked out by an MD and if recommended get an MRI. Listen to you body!


  • I had a decompression Lumbar Spine (L3/4 L4/5 and L5/S1) with an open Discectomy (L5/S1) following an accident back in 1975, followed by a bone mass fusion (No screws or other metalwoork) at L5 S1 in 1984. Such things had an awful lot longer recovery times back then because there was no such thing as microdiscectomy. But, I'm still touching wood when I say that I see myself as a real success story.

    I'm still running at 58 and intend to go on doing so too. In my experience, I have very tight hamstrings, glutes and have ongoing Piriformis Syndrome on the opposite side to that which was worst affected by my accident. Stretching is frustrating, but necessary and can be done whilst paying attention to the limitations of the fusion ie. limited flexibility. No Physiotherapist has ever told me not to run, but to do so with care and take heed of any noticeable symptoms. I was, however,  advised to give up speed skating, and I have never been skiing since.

    I well remember the cross country running shoes that I used before my accident (Lawrence Ripple Soles for those who remember them) and the nature of modern running footwear. In fact I have recently had a "Eureka" moment on that subject because I have noticed an ongoing tendency toward heels striking and the associated jarring to my back. So, I've ordered a pair of Newton Sir Isaac's and I'm hoping to modify my form to get back to mid-foot striking.

    Good luck to all those with recovering backs.



  • I sitting in recovery after L4-L5 micro decompression for severe stenosis caused by Gr 1 spondylolisthesis. I am already asking how long until I will run again! Thanks for all your stories which help me try to be sensible about planning a recovery program. For me Stuart McGill’s books have been incredibly informative on the anatomy of the back. I have been using his Big Three exercises as a basic set of core exercises to build up my core rigidity - like another poster, I don’t think yoga and even a few twisting Pilotis exercises did my back any favors! McGill mentions in Low Back Disorders that swimming may irritate certain conditions like mine (probably in torsion rather than shear). I am regarding this affliction as another challenge to get through. If interested in some science behind therapy check out Cheers, W
  • Hi There CillyWil, just wondering how your recovery went after surgery and are you back running 🏃‍♂️ comfortably.  I have a similar issue and physio isnt helping at the minute so i may go down the route of surgery as it been months now since ive ran . I have strengthened my core and most of my body but im still struggling with pain . Thanks for your time . I hope you have got back to full running 
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