The prospect of having your spine operated on can be scary, but advances in medical technology and great work from thoroughly trained surgeons have helped minimize risk and increase surgery success. That said, even if you’re in the hands of a great surgical team, you still may feel uneasy about your operation because you don’t know what to expect before and after the operation. Although those aspects change depending on your exact operation, there are always some general expectations for spine surgery. We talk about what you can expect in this blog.
The time before surgery can be the most stressful for a number of reasons. For starters, odds are this is your first spine operation, and even if you’ve undergone a procedure in the past, you’re likely undergoing a different procedure this time around. Doing research about the procedure online can be helpful, but sometimes it can lead to more nervousness if you only focus on the negatives, like risks and potential side effects.
Instead, focus on positive outlets that will help put your mind at ease about life after surgery. Prepping the house is a good start. Do the dishes, freeze some meals, vacuum, find power cords, stock up on books, pick up clothes or objects that could be tripping hazards, etc. Getting the house in order will take your mind off the operation, and it will ensure you come back to a good situation after your surgery.
Also, when you meet with your doctor in the days and weeks leading up to your operation, come prepared with questions. Ask your surgeon about anything that’s weighing on your mind. Here are some good questions to ask:
- How long will you be on bed rest/have limited mobility?
- When does rehab start?
- What can you expect as you progress through rehab?
- When will you be able to walk/run/drive after surgery?
- When will you be able to return to work?
- What are the potential risks?
- What can you do before surgery to help improve the outcome?
- What can you do after surgery to help improve the outcome?
- How often has the surgeon preformed this procedure?
- What can you expect 3 days/1 week/3 weeks/2 months after surgery?
- How will you manage any pain after the surgery?
- What should you eat or drink in the days before surgery?
All those questions are great ways to start a conversation about your upcoming operation, and they can help set expectations and put to rest any doubts.
Again, your exact course of rehab depends on your specific operation, but here’s a general idea of what to expect. In the first few days after an operation, you’ll likely notice two things; pain and general tiredness. Pain can be managed with prescriptions and over-the-counter medications, but you’ll still probably deal with mild to moderate pain and discomfort. As for feeling tired, your body is going to be spending a lot of energy helping your body adjust to the physical trauma of surgery. That means you may find yourself tired more frequently, especially if medications are involved.
Once you’re out of the hospital, your doctor will likely advise a course of rehab. You’ll want to stick to physical therapy and other exercises, and don’t get frustrated if you don’t see immediate progress. Surgery is physically demanding and your body needs time to re-strengthen muscles and other structures. Take it slow when rehabbing, as overdoing it too early can lead to re-injury. Also, be sure to change and check any bandages regularly to reduce your likelihood of infection.
Over time you’ll begin to notice that your back is feeling better. Resist the temptation to return to work or physical activity until you are cleared by a doctor. Your doctor will confirm the healing process with an X-ray or MRI, generally 4-8 weeks after surgery. If they like what they see, they’ll increase your physical therapy exercises until you’re back to full health.