Are you about to go in for spinal surgery? Even if you’re just considering it, you are probably wondering what your recovery will look like. The first few weeks after surgery are crucial to your recovery. Early mobilization helps you recover faster, improves your long term outcome, and helps you avoid complications. Most people who do really well after surgery work to show progress in the first three weeks.
There are many things to think about, some of which may have never even crossed your mind. Here are a few of the most pressing issues you might face and tips to overcome these issues.
The bottom line is this: surgery hurts. However, if you are able to control your pain by taking the proper precautions, you will be able to stay ahead of it. You’ll want to begin by taking the pain pills that were prescribed to you. A good rule of thumb is to take one pill first, and take another one only if the pain is not relieved within 15 minutes. Stick to a schedule and take the pills by mouth every 3.5 to 4 hours. If you wait too long between doses, you’ll find it hard to get back to a comfortable level.
Muscle relaxants can also be helpful, but you’ll need to be careful as they are very sedating. Some medications can make you overly emotional, so if you notice that you become emotional, depressed or over-sedated, talk to your doctor about not taking the medication. Also, be sure to be aware of what medications you should avoid mixing, like pain relievers and muscle relaxants. For severe pain, it is best to take a pain pill and then wait at least 30 minutes before taking the muscle relaxant.
More basic treatments include ice and heating. Use ice to reduce inflammation, and then alternate heating and icing.
Nutrition plays a key role in healing, bone growth, and general health. Right after surgery is a great time to make positive changes in your nutrition that will carry through to your everyday routine. Some quick tips we recommend post-surgery are to take a multivitamin and eat a balanced diet. There are many multivitamin supplements available, the one we recommend to our patients is AmeriSciences Master Multi Vitamin. Vitamins are important in making sure you have the right building blocks for recovery. It is also helpful to take an arginine supplement, as it is clinically proven to support wound healing.
As for your diet, anything that is high in protein, moderate in fat and low in carbohydrates will be beneficial for you. However, the right diet for you is whatever you will be able to stick with. If you are intimidated by a major diet change start by adjusting what you are already eating to be just a little more healthy, that way you may be more likely to stick with in the long run.
A good night’s sleep is essential to healing. Surgery can disturb sleep by creating a stress response, and as a side effect of your pain medications. If you are having trouble sleeping, begin by reviewing good sleep hygiene.
- Avoid taking long naps
- Sleeping area should be quiet, dark, and comfortable
- Drink a glass of warm milk before bed
- Go to bed at the same time each day
- Sleep on your back or on your side
- Make sure you have a firm mattress
If good sleep hygiene is not enough, medications may be necessary. Speak to your doctor about your issues sleeping and especially before adding in any new medications to your post-surgery routine.
Exercise is the key to a pain-free life. Through exercise, you build the endurance you need to get through your regular days. That means your exercise needs to be harder and more physically rigorous than anything else you do during the day. In the first three weeks after surgery, you have two assignments.
- Work up to 30 min of walking each day. Lace up your tennis shoes and go for a nice walk at least once a day. Figure out how far you can walk comfortably, and double it each week. If you can’t make it 30 min, then try walking in water.
- Get a large exercise ball and begin sitting on it around the house. Build your balance by sitting on the ball as much as you comfortably can. After doing both of these things, you’ll be ready to add strength training to your routine.
Strength training is great for your core muscles. Using light dumbbells to do rotations of curls, presses and flys will help strengthen your arms and upper back. We will outline a specific workout routine in our full Recovery Guide (downloadable below). As time goes by you will be able to challenge your body with more aggressive exercises. The key is to get a good cardiovascular challenge without impact. Our patients have found success with elliptical bike riding, stationary bike riding, and rowing. The important part is to get your heart rate above 85% maximum and sustain that level for at least 30 minutes.
Some medications really dull your reflexes as and can impair your judgment. After surgery, you will want to wait to get behind the wheel until you are off narcotics (Percocet, Vicodin, Dilaudid, and Morphine). Some people do not need any narcotics after surgery. Most are able to stop taking them after a week or two, though some require up to six weeks.
When you resume driving, avoid the freeway for some time. Take a nice drive to a park or store close by, and avoid any roads with a speed limit greater than 40 mph until you feel confident. If you had low back surgery, wear your brace in the car. If you had neck surgery, the brace may limit your ability to see, and you probably shouldn’t drive until you feel confident out of the brace.
These are just a few of the most frequently asked questions we get about the recovery process. If you liked what you saw, we have even more tips and advice that we’d love to share with you. All you have to do is download our “After Spinal Surgery Instructions”. You can also download our guide to that contains many of the questions you should ask before spinal surgery. Now have everything you need to get you through your surgery and on the path to a pain-free life. Happy healing!