Preparing for Spine Surgery: 5 Key Considerations

It's no surprise that those who are most prepared for spine surgery often have the best outcomes, shortest recoveries, and less overall time spent on pain medication post-surgery. And once a patient has made the thoughtful decision to undergo spine surgery because they believe it is the most appropriate choice, the next logical consideration is how to best prepare for the most successful results. In my experience, the following are some impactful ways patients can help themselves achieve the best outcome with spine surgery.
The phrase Five Things You Should Know in red text on lined notepaper with a cup of coffee, smartphone and marker pen on a deskt

Lose Weight: I begin with this tip because it can take time to accomplish. Losing weight, even just a few pounds, can have an important and positive impact not only on how well the actual spine surgery goes, but also on the duration and scale of recovery.

I've written previously about how important it is to achieve a healthy weight before surgery and it's such a critical factor that it bears repeating. Several studies have shown that severely overweight people who undergo surgery of any kind, including spine surgery, are more susceptible to infections, problems recovering from anesthesia, and struggles with post-operative recovery.

If you're overweight and have a surgery date scheduled, take steps to reduce your weight beforehand. It takes effort, but this effort is well worth the potential benefits and added protection against negative surgical events.

Quit Smoking: Related to weight loss, smoking is among those lifestyle factors that can wreak havoc on spine surgery outcomes. Though it can be a tough habit to kick, doing so before surgery can set the stage for better results post-surgery and long-term.

It's no big secret that smoking causes our bones to degenerate, literally. Plus, it can be accompanied by a host of surgical complications that simply aren't worth it. From too much blood loss during surgery to a difficult recovery and further damage to the spine with continued use after surgery--quitting now can spare a lot of pain down the road.

In fact, among the worst risks of prolonged smoking after spine surgery is the potential need for a revision procedure later on because the spine has sustained further damage. Most people don't enjoy the idea of going through spine surgery once, let alone multiple times. Bottom line: QUIT NOW.

Get Moving: Once spine surgery has been decided upon as the next best step, some patients think that they need to stay off of their feet as much as possible. While this may be true in very few cases, the vast majority of people are actually benefitted by engaging in mild exercise leading up to their surgery date.

This isn't because we want to tax the spine any further. It's mostly for conditioning the body to get the maximum benefit from physical therapy post-surgery. Science has proven that re-conditioning the body to move properly and appropriately as soon as is medically advisable after spine surgery has a lasting impact on long-term recovery and return to normal spine function. 

In order to prepare for the hard work that physical therapy demands, having a baseline endurance level for exercise is crucial. It doesn't have to be a fancy plan. Walking for 30 minutes or more several days each week is great prep-work and can set the stage for you to attain maximum benefits later on.

Continue Prescribed Medications: Unless you are advised specifically by your surgeon/physician to change certain medications before spine surgery, don't alter prescribed dosages or stop the medicine altogether. Having said that, your spine surgeon needs to be fully aware of all of the medications/supplements you are taking and the dosages at which you are taking them.

Though it is becoming less common, some patients still think they need to halt all medications in order to prepare for surgery, and it can have dire consequences. When your surgeon is fully advised of all of your health conditions and the medications prescribed to treat them, he or she is the best expert in deciding how to alter your regimen for the safest and most effective outcome. This is one decision you don't have to make by yourself. Leave it to the experts. 

Relax: I know. I just told you to exercise, if you can, before surgery. Now I'm telling you to relax. So which is it? It's both.

By relax I don't mean stop moving. What's most important here is to try to simplify life and reduce stress in the weeks/days leading up to surgery and of course, in the recovery phase. I see too many patients scrambling to "get it all done" in the time leading up to their surgery that they run themselves ragged in the process.

When our bodies are worn out, that's when we're most susceptible to illness. Don't risk having your procedure canceled because you've gotten sick while preparing for surgery. Spine surgery works best when you go into it offering up the best, most-rested YOU possible. Try to get enough sleep in the time leading up to surgery and if there are things that must be done to prepare beforehand, ask loved ones and friends to help out. You'll be glad you did.