This is a list of some of the most frequently asked questions we get asked about spinal surgery pre and post operation. If you can’t find an answer to your question here or for any further information please contact us. Thank you.

If I can’t find the answer to my question here, what should I do?

You will be seen at six weeks after surgery and will have every opportunity then to ask questions. If it can’t wait until then the best thing to do is email at syoung@spineireland.ie. You can also write to or fax my office. Please note that due to heavy clinical commitments there may be a delay in answering phone messages.

In emergencies, I or a member of my team can be contacted at Beaumont Hospital on: 01 837 7755.

How soon can I fly after surgery?

If you feel comfortable you can fly short-haul flights i.e. up to 4 hours after three weeks. For long-haul flights you should ideally wait six weeks.

If I had an implant inserted will it go off at airport security?

No. All surgical implants in the spine are made of a polymer or noble metal which are non-magnetic and do not set off metal detectors.

When can I get back to playing golf or other sports?

All exercise and sport is to be encouraged, and golf in particular is very good for the lumbar spine. It makes sense though, to make sure that you have fully recovered from the operation. In most instances this will be six weeks and when you do return you should build up gradually to your previous level of fitness.

When should I return to work?

This depends on the type of job you have. If it involves manual labour, prolonged driving or standing on your feet for long hours then it's best to take a full six weeks off.

If your job is sedentary and you can get up and move at will, go back part-time or even do some work at home then it is possible to go back sooner. It's not that you will do any severe harm going back to work earlier, but if you overdo it you will be prone to painful muscle spasms and this may in fact prolong the amount of time you need off.

What if my wound is painful, red or has a discharge?

This may be a sign that the wound is infected. You should seek medical advice straight away.

What should I do if my wound is discharging clear fluid?

Leakage of cerebral spinal fluid is a rare but well recognised complication of spinal surgery. There is no need for alarm, but you should seek medical advice straight away. You may need to come back to hospital to have a small operative procedure carried out to repair it.

What should I do if I feel I’m experiencing more pain than I expected?

People vary a great deal in their reaction to and recovery from back surgery. It is important that you are receiving adequate pain relief — if not, you should either consult your GP or seek advice from us by phone or e-mail. It might be a matter of simply adjusting your medication. If the pain does not improve, we will request that you come for an earlier follow up appointment.

Do I need physiotherapy?

You need time and rest to heal properly. In the first six weeks after your operation, I prefer you to restrict yourself to light exercise such as walking and gentle bending and stretching.

I think it’s best not to start an exercise program such as core strengthening exercises or Pilates until the six weeks is up. After that, if you feel that you need help rehabilitating then I think it’s perfectly reasonable to attend a physiotherapist. In some circumstances, for example when back muscles have been very weak for a prolonged period, we will prescribe it for you.

When can I drive?

You must be safe and comfortable. You should not be on painkillers that make you drowsy, you should be able to sit comfortably at the wheel and able to turn freely to look over your shoulder. In most cases, post-operative patients are good enough to start driving at the end of the second or third weeks, but if you are still uncomfortable by then you should take a bit longer to return to it.

How long will my recovery be?

A short answer to this question is “Usually longer than you think it will” In general, it depends on how long and how severe your symptoms were beforehand. If you have had a short history, say 2 to 3 months, then recovery should be quite rapid i.e. over a similar period or even less. If on the other hand you have been in severe pain for several months or even years, it can take several months to fully recover.

Nerve pain usually improves a lot quicker than muscular ache. You should notice some improvements straightaway but the time taken for muscles and nerves to get fully back to normal may take a while. It will also depend on how active you are and how much you commit to improving the strength in your back and limbs with exercise. Similarly, if you have been in severe as opposed to moderate pain, nerves may take longer to fully recover.

Is it usual to continue to experience back discomfort after disc surgery?

It is quite common to continue to have backache and stiffness after surgery because the lumbar muscles have often been weak for a long time prior to surgery.

Many patients who have had a disc prolapse also have degenerative changes in the spine, particularly in the facet joints and ligaments. The best way to improve back symptoms once you have recovered from surgery is to exercise regularly, improve core strength and develop good habits with regards to posture, bending and lifting. It is also a good idea to try and get to your optimal weight.

What if I still have pain in my leg?

Lumbar surgery should relieve nerve pain in your leg but it may take several weeks to go completely. If the pain has been there for a long time i.e. more than six months, the nerve may have been damaged. As it is going through the healing process there may be some continuing discomfort and for a time pain or discomfort can even be worse due to nerve hypersensitivity. Severe continuing pain in the leg beyond 3-4 months after surgery is unusual and you should inform your GP and/or our office about it.

Can I sit after surgery?

Yes. It is perfectly safe to sit. For comfort, it is best to sit in chairs that offer firm lumbar support. Car seats are often unsuitable without some additional back support.