Any sort of surgery can prompt feelings of unease and disquiet — particularly when it comes to the spine. Spinal fusions in particular may make some patients feel concerned. Permanently connecting two or more vertebrae sounds like a drastic step. However, much of that anxiety abates when they learn about the overall outcomes of spinal fusion. For example, F1000 Research pointed out how back surgery in general provides a reduction in pain and an increase in function. Another study published in the journal Neurosurgery also noted that different types of fusions significantly improved patients’ quality of life.
That being said, patients ought not to rest on their proverbial laurels. Surgery is only an element of an effective treatment plan for a spinal disorder. Planning for your recovery is just as important as the procedure itself, and an incautious approach can undo an otherwise successful procedure. Fortunately, much of the recovery process is in your direct control. Read on to learn more about our top five tips for taking care of yourself during your spinal surgery recovery.
Practice Proper Back Care
Spinal fusions may require more bed rest than other kinds of spine surgeries. In fact, your initial spinal fusion after care routine could involve little more than simply sitting up in bed or logrolling (i.e., turning to either side in such a way as to not twist your back). Soon enough, though, medical professionals will ask you to start walking.
It may seem counterintuitive to begin moving about as part of your immediate spinal fusion surgery recovery. Still, it’s a very important part of getting better, especially as far as maintaining good circulation is concerned. While walking may involve some discomfort, it also prevents dangerous developments such as deep-vein thrombosis. These clots can cause life-threatening conditions, and minimizing their formation is important after any surgery.
Additionally, proper spinal alignment matters during your recovery from spinal fusion surgery. It may take anywhere from three to six months for your vertebrae to properly fuse into a single mass of bone. During this time, you should take special care to wear any kind of bracing that your doctor or nurse recommends. While often uncomfortable, these braces prevent addition injury and help speed your recovery.
Finally, part of practicing proper post-operative care involves limiting specific kinds of physical activity. For instance, you will want to avoid movements that cause you to twist at the spinal level of your surgical site. Avoid lifting heavy objects (usually defined as anything weighing 15 pounds or more), rigorous exercise or sports, and taking the stairs. You should also abstain from sexual activity until your doctor says you’re ready.
Engage in Pain-Relief Activities
Various pain-relieving medications have received a lot of bad press in recent years, and not without reason. Still, properly taking analgesics as prescribed by your doctor is an important part of relieving your inevitable discomfort during recovery. In most cases, though, you should avoid taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs. While these are easily available over-the-counter medications, they may hamper your bones’ healing process.
Aside from medicines, remaining active is one of the best things you can do to speed your recovery and reduce pain. You don’t want to overdo things, but regular moderate movement can help prevent more than just blood clots. It also keeps your muscles from weakening, maintains digestive health, discourages pressure-ulcer formation, and bolsters energy levels. In fact, a study published in Health Informatics found that significant movement on the first day after surgery helped improve recovery outcomes.
Your mood matters, too. A study published in PLOS One examined how various psychological factors impacted recovery, stating that “trait and state anxiety, state anger, active coping, subclinical depression, and intramarital hostility appeared to complicate recovery, while dispositional optimism, religiousness, anger control, low pain expectations, and external locus of control seemed to promote healing.” Though the study’s authors noted that “the heterogeneity [i.e., dissimilarity] of the available evidence precludes any safe conclusions,” it does appear that working on your mental state and having a stable support network can help.
Maintain a Healthy Diet
What you eat and your activity level has long-running implications for your recovery. Most patients are aware of this, but what might surprise you is that your nutrition prior to surgery remains just as important as your intake afterward. Just consider that the University of Washington states that two-thirds of all individuals with spinal-cord injury are overweight. Obesity puts added stress on the spine and can hamper your mobility, which will in turn slow your recovery.
For more detailed information on what constitutes a healthy diet, consider reviewing The University of Alabama’s EatRight® Weight Management Program. The basics, though, are simple: Eat smaller portions of fresh foods, which include lean protein and plenty of fruits and vegetables, while drinking adequate amounts of water and minimizing sugar and caffeine intake.
Internalize Recovery Habits
We have already discussed some of the healthy habits you should practice as part of your lumbar or cervical spinal fusion surgery recovery process, such as staying active, remaining positive, and eating well. Another healthy habit to focus on is stopping smoking. A study in Global Spine Journal discovered that “smoking increases the risk of nonunion in both lumbar and cervical spine procedures.” Additionally, “an emerging body of literature suggests that tobacco addiction predisposes users to an increased incidence of postoperative complications in most surgical disciplines.”
Other healthy recovery habits include:
- Keeping your follow-up appointments with your doctor
- Avoiding soaking in water until your incision is healed
- Practicing your doctor-prescribed breathing exercises
- Having at-home help available to aid you with everyday activities and thus avoid injury
- Avoiding doing too much too soon
- Waiting to return to work until you are properly healed
Keep Your Physical Therapy Appointments
Spinal fusion surgery recovery physical therapy will not make anyone’s list of favorite activities. However, it remains a vital part of your healing. Physical therapy does several things such as minimizing fatigue, helping restore proper functioning, and preventing future injury. Not only will your physical therapist guide you through spinal fusion surgery recovery exercises, he or she will also help manage your pain with ice packs, proper positioning, and possibly electrical stimulation.
Minimizing pain and promoting maximal functioning is what The Spine Center aims to do for all of our clients. Our surgeons have more than five decades of combined medical experience, and we focus on patient education and empowerment. Contact or call us today at (847) 698-9330 so that we can help you live a fuller, pain-free life.edu