The Ins and Outs of Recovering from Back Surgery

You've done it! You've made the thoughtful decision to have spinal surgery, carefully prepared for and undergone your procedure, and are now faced with what lies ahead. I'd love to tell you that it's all smooth sailing from here, but depending on where you're at in the healing process, more work is probably required of you. The good news? Putting in that hard work now can have significant positive and lasting benefits for the rest of your life. Here are some "Ins and Outs" on getting there.

In: Rest
persons feet coming out of bed with slippers nearbyWhile your body is healing, especially in the early days after surgery, it needs plenty of rest. Even if you were an avid [insert name of extreme sport here] enthusiast before your spine condition or injury, you're not super-human.

Rest is an integral part of the healing process, even if it seems like a passive activity to you. And don't worry, you'll be up, moving and working hard at rehabilitating your back in no time at all.

Out: Overdoing It
Some of my most physically-active patients can be the toughest to manage post-surgery. This isn't because they're intentionally trying to be difficult. Simply put, they all seem to have just one speed: GO!

It's great to be driven, especially when recovering from surgery. But putting too much stress on a body too soon after surgery can actually have the opposite effect of what's intended. It can hinder proper healing. Challenge your body to move appropriately after surgery, but don't expect or force it to move with effortless efficiency too soon.

In: Exercise
Some patients are surprised to know that they'll be up and walking after spinal surgery, depending on the procedure type, while they're still in the hospital. It's true. And with good reason. Countless studies have shown that the sooner we can get patients up and moving in a somewhat normal fashion, the sooner we can help their bodies accommodate the "new normal" of their spine reconstruction.

But don't let the prodding of hospital staff and physical therapists be your only reason for exercise. Independent of scheduled physical therapy sessions, you'll need to put in the work all on your own, too. Your surgeon and/or therapist will give you exercise homework. Make sure you do it!

Out: Sitting Still
This can be a tricky tip. On one hand, I never want to see a patient overextend themselves in such a way that they cause damage to their spine after surgery. On the other hand, lack of movement can be just as damaging.

If you're struggling with finding the healthy balance between moving enough and moving too much, please talk to your surgeon or physical therapists right away. The longer you wait to strike that balance means the longer it will take your spine to adapt to the level of activity that is desirable and appropriate for you.

In: Managing Pain
In order for your spine to properly heal after surgery, your pain needs to be closely monitored and managed, especially once you leave the hospital.

Make sure you or a loved one/caregiver completely understands the instructions on the proper dosages and interval of the pain medications you've been prescribed. Remember, pain management isn't just for your comfort. It is an integral part of your recovery process, just as important as rest and exercise. Make sure you treat it as such.

Out: Grinning and Bearing It
This is a big one. For people who've battled crippling back pain for many years before surgery, the idea of being "completely off" of pain medications can seem like a dream come true. And for many, it is. Eventually. But don't alter your pain medical prescriptions and dosages without careful consultation with your surgeon first.

Going "cold turkey" too soon after surgery or too quickly can be the stuff of nightmares for many patients and can cause unnecessary set-backs in recovery. Remember that saying "Slow and steady wins the race?" It applies to spine surgery recovery, too.

In: Expert Help and Advice
When in doubt about anything having to do with your spine surgery recovery, talk to your surgeon. He or she has the knowledge and experience to help you navigate your road to wellness. There is no shame in asking questions, even if you've asked them before. Being clear on what is expected of you and what you should expect of your body after surgery is critical.

Out: Going It On Your Own
Just because your surgeon has successfully performed your spine surgery procedure doesn't mean that he or she has finished the job. Don't feel like you're all alone to figure out recovery by yourself.

A great spine surgeon and practice will provide you with scheduled follow-up appointments at appropriate intervals post-surgery, information on physical therapy as well as all of the information you need to recover well at home. We want our patients to live well after surgery, and we truly enjoy watching it happen. We may have left the operating room once your procedure was finished, but it certainly wasn't a final goodbye.