Now that your spine surgery is done, you can concentrate on the next phase—recovery. After any surgical procedure, the body needs time to restore damaged tissues and return to normal. Recovery is a process and may take some time before you feel completely healed. The recovery period—both in the hospital and at home—is necessary to rebuild your strength. The best way to approach your recovery is with a positive attitude and realistic goals.
Don't Push Beyond Your Surgeon's Instructions
Your surgeon will give you information about what to expect after your spine surgery. Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions. Pushing yourself too fast after surgery will only cause setbacks in your recovery. Be prepared to spend some time resting. Discomfort should decrease a little each day. Increases in energy and activity are signs that recovery is going well.
Keep in mind, the amount of time it takes to return to normal activities is different for every patient. Recovery time is often faster for patients who are young and in good physical condition. Maintaining a healthy attitude, a well-balanced diet, and getting plenty of rest can also shorten recovery time. Recovery is much slower for people who smoke and are overweight or out of shape.
Mental or Emotional Recovery
Some people experience temporary bouts of moodiness or emotional let down after surgery. Do not fear that this is a setback or will lengthen your recovery time. Emotional changes are normal and may be due to the body working hard to heal itself. They may also be due to unrealistic expectations about how long it takes to feel "normal" again. Keeping a positive attitude is important during this time. Focus on making small improvements each day with an eye toward the continued progress you will make in the future.
Pain After Surgery
It is normal to have some pain after spine surgery. Many patients experience achiness due to inflammation and/or muscle spasms across the back or down the legs. You may also have pain at the site of the incision or in your hip if a bone graft was used. These are all normal after-effects of spine surgery. As your body heals, this discomfort should decrease.
Your doctor will prescribe pain medication to relieve muscle spasms and reduce inflammation. When you are ready, gradually reduce the amount of pain medication you take by increasing the amount of time between doses and decreasing the number of pills you take each time. At the same time, try other non-drug pain relief treatments, such as moist heat, gentle exercise, massage, short rest periods, and frequent re-positioning.
Recovery in the Hospital
With most spinal surgeries, patients are up and walking (if only for a short walk) within hours after their procedure. It is no longer necessary, or recommended, that you lie in bed for weeks after spine surgery. Nurses who are experienced in working with spinal surgery patients will assist you in your first few "trips" out of bed.
The easiest way to get out of bed is by raising the head of the bed as far as it will go, slowly moving your legs to the floor and slowly standing up. Make sure you tell the nurse if you feel faint or if you feel like you might fall. If so, get back into bed and try again in a few hours.
Your doctor will tell you when it is safe to shower after spine surgery. The nursing staff will show you how to keep the dressing dry and in place to protect the incision while showering. The wound should not be submerged in water (pool or tub) until it has healed and has been cleared by your doctor. The nurse will change the dressing after your shower, and again later if necessary.