Back Surgery Planning & Recovery Guide
Chronic low back pain, spondylosis, limited mobility, herniated spinal discs, tingling and numbness in your extremities, spinal stenosis, sciatica and lower back pain and shoulder pain are all reasons why you might seek help from the spinal surgeons at Inspired Spine. Our minimally invasive spinal surgery procedures promise to reduce pain, bring life back to tingling or numb limbs, and increase your mobility.
Patients generally go into back surgery with high hopes and expectations for solutions that can take months or even years to achieve. Naturally, they also often have some feelings of anxiety.
At Inspired Spine, your comfort is our priority, and we make sure you are well-informed at each step of the process. Our orthopedic surgeons are responsible for the procedure and in-patient care, but you are responsible for the healing once out of our hands, and there are things you can do to improve the speed of your recovery.
What to Expect from Your Inspired Spine MIS Surgery
The better informed you are, the less uncertainty you will experience. Back surgery at Inspired Spine differs from traditional spinal surgery in that the procedure is less invasive, your stay at the hospital afterwards is shorter, and your recovery is easier and more manageable.
Short Post-Op Hospital Stay
Inspired Spine techniques allow your spine surgeon to complete your surgery very quickly. While other methods may take several hours, many Inspired Spine procedures can be finished in under an hour. That shortened time means less surgical trauma (smaller incisions, less damage to your internal muscles and ligaments, much less blood loss).
This allows you to return to the comfort of your home soon after surgery. Many patients can even leave the hospital the day of their surgery. This of course varies with each individual patient, but in general these procedures offer shorter hospital stays.
Quick Surgery Recovery
Another benefit of Inspired Spine’s less invasive procedures is that recovery becomes much easier.
With an Inspired Spine procedure, many patients are back to physical activity and back to their day jobs within a few days or a week after surgery. This is much different than patients undergoing traditional spinal surgeries who experience extreme pain after their surgery for days, weeks, or months following the procedure.
Minor Pain in the Short-Term
Although Inspired Spine procedures offer a significant reduction in operating time and surgical trauma, they are still surgical procedures that require incisions. This means you may experience minor pain during recovery while your body heals.
There’s no way to avoid this, but there are numerous methods for relieving pain during your recovery. Your spinal surgeon will most likely prescribe you some pain medication for the days following your procedure. You can also use over the counter NSAIDs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, to reduce your pain while you recover.
For post-op pain management instructions specific to you, contact us.
Long-Term Pain Relief
While you may deal with some minor surgery-related pain, the pain you were experiencing before your procedure will be greatly reduced or completely subsided. Inspired Spine procedures focus on fixing the root of your pain, resolving the issue for long-term relief.
Spinal Surgery Pre-Op & Post-Op Preparation Guides
When undergoing a minimally invasive spinal surgery at Inspired Spine, there are common concerns our patients have. Preparing for your surgery physically, emotionally, and with a proper support system is essential to a better spinal surgery recovery process. The following information can help to reduce your pre-op anxiety and help you have a positive outcome post-op.
Simply click on the list you’d like to view and it will open to show all the tips we’ve compiled.
Spinal Surgery Preparation Guide
Spinal Surgery Pre-Op Preparation: Your Physical Health
Once you and your surgeon have determined that minimally invasive surgery is your best option, there are several things you can do before your back surgery to facilitate a smooth physical recovery process.
Exercise BEFORE Your Back Surgery
Back pain is hard to live with, but if you’re able to, you should try to get as much physical activity as you can before surgery.
If you don’t already work-out on a regular basis, the months or weeks leading up to spinal surgery is a good time to start (with your doctor’s approval, of course). Exercise will help increase the circulation in your body, including circulation to the body parts that will be surgically altered.
Even a small amount of exercise in the swimming pool or on a recumbent bike can have a profound effect on recovery time. If you’re committed to a short recovery period, it would behoove you to take a few walks before the date of your surgery.
Nicotine has been shown to inhibit spinal bone growth and contribute to back pain, but beyond that, smoking reduces the circulation in your body, which is bad for you if you’re going to be undergoing surgery.
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a smoker, if you’re undergoing back surgery, it’s time to quit! Your body will immediately start purging tar from your lungs and the health effects of dropping the habit will make a big impact on your overall recovery speed.
Alcohol dehydrates the body which is undesirable during and after surgery. Every chemical reaction in the body takes place in water, so dehydrated tissues are compromised.
It’s best to avoid alcohol and instead drink clear fluids like decaffeinated tea and water for four to five days leading up to surgery. Additionally, remember that drinking alcohol can negatively interact with your post-op pain medications and can also decrease your positivity during recovery.
Maintain Healthy Eating Habits
These days, it’s getting harder and harder to find healthy foods. Generally speaking, the healthiest things you can eat are fresh fruits and vegetables that have been cooked and prepared at home. It’s important to eat a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of foods rich in vitamin C, which is known to help promote tissue healing.
Spinal Surgery Pre-Op Preparation: Your Mental & Emotional Health
Many patients assume that spine surgery recovery will be painful, but most don’t realize how boring recovery can be. Often, patients are relegated to their homes while family members and friends go to work. Spending all that time alone, without much to do, can take a toll on your mental and emotional health.
Taking the time to plan your post-op recovery before surgery can help you with the mental and emotional strain that often times comes along with back surgery. With that in mind, here are a few ways to keep you positive while you’re recovering from a minimally invasive spinal procedure.
Chat with Friends & Family
Positive human interaction can greatly improve your optimism and emotional health during back surgery recovery.
If possible, ask a friend or family member to come visit with you while you recover. If that’s not an option, you could chat with someone on the phone, or even exchange emails or text messages. A small amount of interaction can go a long way during your recovery period.
Stimulate Your Mind
Keeping your mind stimulated is another important aspect of spinal surgery recovery. Get a few books you want to read, make a list of interesting movies, or have a few fun games ready to play.
Plan to Go Outside
Being cooped up in your house or apartment after a procedure can lead to cabin fever and anxiety. If it’s nice out, make preliminary plans to get up and take a walk outdoors with a friend or family member during your recovery. The fresh air will work wonders!
Remember, when it comes to physical activity, follow your surgeon’s post-op instructions. Understand that for a short period of time you may have some physical limitations during your early recovery period.
Arrange in Advance for Help at Home
It’s a good idea to arrange to have a post-op buddy. Most spine surgeries do not allow the patient to drive themselves home immediately after the procedure, so you’ll need a friend or family member to help.
It is also a good idea to have someone on hand to assist you with any activities you may be unable to perform after surgery. It’s also nice to have a friendly face around to keep you company while you recover.
Arrange in Advance for Pain Management
Your surgeon will likely prescribe you some medications to help control pain after your procedure. Make sure you have these prescriptions ready for you when you get home. You will also want to get some over-the-counter NSAIDs to control your pain after your stronger prescription meds run out.
Be sure to follow your surgeon’s post-op directions and take any pain medication as prescribed to keep your pain at bay while you recover.
If you are prescribed opiates during to assist with pain management during your recovery, it is essential that you take these as prescribed. If you are in addiction recovery or think you may have any issues with taking opiates, please ensure you let your Inspired Spine patient coordinator know during your spinal surgery pre-op office visits.
Spinal Surgery Recovery Guide: The Basics
Spinal Surgery Post-Op Preparation
After your surgery, continue to do many of the things you did to prepare for the surgery, namely eat healthy food, get plenty of rest, don’t smoke or drink, and get as much exercise as is appropriate. Plus, you’ll want to enlist the help of friends or family as needed and consider ways to keep a positive attitude.
All of that can lower your chances of having back problems after surgery. While our procedures do offer faster recovery times than traditional surgery, keep in mind that even with the shortened surgical and recovery times, you won’t be back to 100% next day.
During surgery, your Inspired Spine surgeon will perform minimally invasive surgery to correct your prescribed ailment. After your procedure, the responsibility shifts to you – the patient. It’s important to do everything in your power to help your body recover after surgery. With that in mind, here are a few post-op rules for making your back surgery recovery go as smoothly as possible.
Always Listen to Your Doctor
Before your surgical procedure, your surgeon will give you a list of post-op recommendations to follow, tailored specifically to your situation. It is of the utmost importance that you follow these post-operative rules while you recover.
Your surgeon knows the most about your medical condition and will craft the post-op instructions for you based on your unique needs. Many patients fail to follow these recommendations and their recovery time periods lengthen as a result. Don’t let that be you.
If you are confused about any of your doctor’s post-operative instructions, be sure to ask clarifying questions before or after your surgery.
Watch for Signs of Infection or Blood Clots
After surgery, keep a watchful eye on your incision for signs of infection or blood clots and head to the doctor immediately if you see anything suspicious cropping up. Both can impede the recovery process and it’s best to catch them early if you’re hoping to stay on track for a quick, full recovery.
Continue Eating a Healthy Diet
After spinal surgery, menial tasks like doing the dishes can cause pain and be a challenge for someone in the early stages of recovery. At the same time, it’s important for patients to eat lots of fresh fruits and veggies and other nutrient-rich foods to assist with the healing process.
Consider asking a friend or family member to cook for you during those first two weeks of recovery, until you can do it yourself. Microwaveable meals are a tempting alternative to cooking but asking for help preparing meals may be a better choice for a quick recovery. If microwavable meals are your only option, ensure before your surgery you’ve stocked your freezer with healthy, organic choices.
No one food is going to completely heal all your wounds but maintaining a healthy diet after your procedure can have significant effects on your body’s healing process.
Foods You Should Eat During Back Surgery Recovery
- Fresh fruit smoothies and steamed veggies are easy to eat and prepare and they offer plenty of nutrients to help your body recovery more quickly.
- Drink plenty of water. It’s not a food, but water is perhaps the most important thing you should be consuming post-op. Drinking 8 or more glasses of water a day will keep you hydrated and allow your body to heal as quickly and efficiently as possible.
- Foods that are high in fiber can help reduce constipation (a common after-effect of surgery). Make sure to eat a lot of berries, beans, and other foods high in fiber.
- Dark chocolate. While it’s a bad idea to eat a lot of junk food while you recover, eating dark chocolate or one of your favorite treats in moderation can help release endorphins which can reduce your perception of pain and trigger a positive feeling.
Foods to Avoid During Back Surgery Recovery
- Excess sugar. Eating junk food will make you generally feel crummy and won’t do anything to aid your body’s natural healing process.
- Alcohol. It dehydrates your body which is undesirable both during and after surgery. Every chemical reaction in your body takes place in water, so dehydrated tissues are compromised. Drinking alcohol can negatively interact with your post-op pain medications and decrease your positivity during recovery.
- Refined sugars can diminish your immunity. Choose sea salt rather than refined salt to obtain trace minerals that might be lacking from your diet.
If you have any questions about what you should and should not consume after your minimally invasive keyhole spine procedure, contact your surgeon for recommendations.
Understand Your Physical Limitations
With Inspired Spine minimally invasive spinal surgery, most patients are back at home the day of surgery and back to moderate activities within a week or two. That being said, your body still needs time to recover from the surgery itself.
Moving Around & Your Recovery
Smaller incisions result in quicker recovery, but you need to take it easy while your body readjusts. It’s common for surgical patients to feel tired and lethargic for some time following the procedure. Doctors recommend that patients shift often into different positions.
Patients should try not to stand, sit, or lie down for too long at one time. Short walks are often recommended as long as they don’t dramatically escalate pain.
Exercise: Don’t Overdo It – Take It Slow
Excessive physical activity can push your body too far before it’s fully healed. Don’t rush back to the gym right after your procedure. Don’t do any heavy lifting or run any marathons right after your procedure. Take it slow and listen to your body’s signals.
Returning to Work Post-Op
Don’t return to work too early. The point at which you can return to work after a spinal operation depends greatly on the nature of your job.
If you work a 9-5 desk job that doesn’t require a lot of heavy lifting, you can likely return within a week or two. If you work in construction and your job requires a lot of lifting and physical activity, your wait will be longer. The last thing you want to do is re-injure yourself after surgery.
Don’t Become Sedentary
Many patients assume that the best way to heal after spine surgery is to stay in bed and let your body heal, but this can actually be detrimental to your recovery.
The truth is that lying in bed during the days and weeks after your procedure won’t help speed up your recovery at all. In fact, it’s much better to remain active while you recover.
Going for walks with a family member or friend and moving around is much better than being a couch potato or staying in bed for the entirety of your recovery period. Movement will help encourage regrowth and mobility in your spine.
Spinal Surgery Recovery Guide: Exercises & Therapies
Back Surgery Post-Op: Exercises & Stretches
It’s better for your spine to stay moderately active during your recovery period. Doing some moderate stretches regularly after your spinal procedure can reduce pain and scarring. Following are a few exercises you can do at home after surgery to speed up the post-op recovery process.
As mentioned earlier – don’t overdo it. Take it slow and listen to your body’s limitations while stretching and exercising.
You should always talk with your surgeon about your recommended post-op activities. Don’t engage in any of these exercises without getting the OK from your doctor, the one person that knows your specific medical situation better than anyone.
Some patients may require more advanced physical therapy techniques. If that’s the case, your surgeon can refer you to a trusted physical therapist.
This exercise helps strengthen and stabilize your back muscles after a procedure:
- Get down on all fours
- Raise your right arm straight ahead of you
- Lift your left leg directly behind you
- Hold for 5-10 seconds
- Repeat with the opposing appendages
Knee to Chest
This simple stretch helps strengthen and loosen up the muscles in your low back, as well as your hamstrings:
- Lie flat on your back with your arms at your sides
- Slowly bring your right leg up to your chest (or as close as you can get)
- Hold the knee with one or both hands for 5-10 seconds
- Release and repeat with the other knee
Turn & Twist
This stretch is good for your upper and middle back muscles and helps increase flexibility:
- Sit down on the floor with your legs extended in front of you
- Place your right foot on the outside of your left knee
- Put your left elbow on your right knee and gently twist your torso to the right
- Hold for 5-10 seconds and repeat with the other knee
Back Surgery Post-Op: Physical Therapy
After spinal surgery, physical therapy is the most important aspect of recovery to help you return to an improved level of functioning.
The physical therapist is a specialist who is trained and educated in improving mobility, alleviating pain, and enhancing postural correction. The therapist chooses special exercises for you to improve strength and range of motion following surgery.
You will meet with the physical therapist before surgery for an evaluation. The therapist will see you in the hospital after your procedure, and you can continue physical therapy after going home.
Research shows that physical exercise after a spinal surgery will result in better patient outcomes.
1. Your Physical Therapy Evaluation
Once you are scheduled for surgery, the surgeon and physical therapist consult regarding your treatment plan. The components of the physical therapy evaluation include:
- History taking. The physical therapist will take a verbal or written history from you. Questions in the history center around your injury, your symptoms, and any complications you have suffered from previous surgeries or the recent surgery. This also includes a past medical history.
- Postural assessment. Proper posture has a significant role in maintaining a healthy spine, so your therapist will assess your posture before and after surgery, examining your spine when you are standing and sitting. This is done to help you attain and maintain a healthy posture.
- Range of motion. The physical therapist measures your spinal range of motion using a bubble inclinometer or goniometer. This is used to get baseline readings of your spinal mobility.
- Strength. To measure your strength, the physical therapist uses several special techniques. If you have muscle paralysis or weakness from spinal nerve compression before surgery, the therapist makes note of this. After surgery, your strength is assessed so the therapist can devise a treatment plan.
- Scar tissue assessment. Following spinal surgery, you may have 1-3 small surgical scars on your back. The physical therapist examines the scar tissue mobility and motion restriction related to the scarring.
- Neurological screening. This screening is used to assess spinal nerve functioning. The therapist uses a reflex hammer to check deep tendon reflexes, and light touch and pressure tests are used to check your ability to sense and feel.
- Flexibility testing. This involves evaluating your ability to turn from side to side, bend up and down at the waist, and lean backwards. Muscle groups checked include the quadriceps, calf muscles, and hamstrings. The therapist checks for tightness of the sciatic nerve, as well as scar tissue formation that affects flexibility.
- Functional evaluation. The physical therapist assesses your overall function before and after surgery. Are you able to move about your home? Can you work? What are your limitations? If you are having trouble with activities of daily living, the therapist may perform a functional capacity exam.
2. Physical Therapy – What It Includes
After your physical therapist fully evaluates you, get ready to start moving. Physical therapy is meant to expand your physical limitations and strengthen the areas that were affected during your procedure.
Although you may find it physically taxing, this portion of your recovery is a primary tool in quickening your short-term recovery and increasing your long-term mobility. It has been found that during physical therapy, exercise is just one piece of the puzzle. Below is what you can expect during your physical therapy journey.
- Exercise. The physical therapist develops a tailored post-operative exercise program for you. This focuses on progressive lumbar range of motion exercises, as well as core and hip strengthening exercises. The therapist also works with you to improve cardiovascular function and endurance. Overall flexibility in the muscles is achieved using these exercises.
- Physical modalities. To control post-operative pain, the therapist will use modalities like ultrasound therapy, ice, heat therapy, and electrical stimulation. While ice decreases swelling and pain, heat will improve circulation and relax muscles.
- Scar massage. To target tightness around your surgical incisions, the therapist engages in several scar mobilization techniques. These massage maneuvers will help alleviate mobility issues and pain.
Back Surgery Post-Op: Music Therapy – Physical & Emotional Benefits
Most patients are eager to recover after spinal surgery. If you’re feeling impatient about making progress toward a full recovery, you might want to consider rolling music therapy into your daily repertoire. Recent studies have shown that music therapy can provide special benefits to spinal surgery patients who are on the mend.
Music therapy won’t directly help you recover from your surgery, but it can help you cope emotionally with some of the side effects, like pain and physical limitations. For those who are hoping to shave a few days or maybe even a week off the recovery process and bounce back fully, music therapy is an excellent postoperative choice for recovery. Science has shown that it really does help.
What Is Music Therapy?
Music therapy is a musical intervention strategy that’s customized to achieve individual goals. Music therapists are individuals who have completed an approved music therapy program to become credentialed in the use of music to address a variety of physical, cognitive, emotional, and social needs.
Music Therapy – The Physical Benefits
In the case of spinal surgery patients, the goal is a speedy recovery. Music therapists may recommend singing, movement, listening activities, or artistic creation to enhance recovery in specific patients. Research has shown that music therapy has a positive impact on physical rehabilitation.
Music Therapy – The Emotional Benefits
Beyond facilitating healthy movement, it also provides an emotionally supportive environment for the expression of feelings.
Recent studies have demonstrated that music therapy can increase feelings of comfort and help spinal surgery patients cope with pain as well as other emotional issues related to their recovery. The use of integrative medicine such as music therapy has been shown to decrease a patient’s dependence on pharmacological agents during the recovery process.
What to Do When Your Positive Recovery Takes a Turn for the Worse
When you undergo spine surgery, you want to have the quickest and easiest recovery possible. Sometimes, even though you’ve taken all the right steps to ensure that your recovery goes smoothly, your recovery starts well then seems to begin going downhill.
Though it can be due to an issue with the procedure, most of the time it’s due to another condition or injury at play, or because you haven’t been closely following your doctor’s post-op recommendations.
Whatever the cause, you want to keep your recovery moving forward. If things start to regress, you need to take steps to correct the underlying issues, prevent a healing plateau and keep your recovery positive so you continue to progress with your healing process until you are back to your fully-functioning self.
What Is a Healing Plateau or Regressive Recovery?
A healing plateau occurs during surgery recovery when a patient’s healing progress halts. Recovery regression is one step beyond that, when the patient not only stops getting better, but begins to backslide and undo the healing they have already done. Healing plateaus and regressions can happen for a variety of different reasons.
3 Tips for Fighting Recovery Regression
1. Contact Your Surgeon
Temporary healing plateaus are not uncommon. But if you notice that your condition is progressively worsening, contact your surgeon to see what’s wrong and to determine the best steps to take. There may be other factors at play (another illness or condition) that could be impeding your body’s ability to heal.
2. Follow Your Doctor’s Directions
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again – you should always follow your doctor’s post-op orders to help your body recover.
That includes taking any prescription medications, abiding by activity restrictions, performing any prescribed rehabilitation exercises, along with anything else your surgeon recommends. Your physician knows your medical situation better than anyone and has your best interests at heart. So, above all else, rely on your doctor!
3. Maintain a Positive Outlook
Surgery recovery is obviously very physical, but mental recovery is equally important. When you reach a healing plateau it’s easy to get discouraged. But it’s important to stay optimistic in these situations.
Your mental state and outlook have more impact than you realize on the healing of your physical body. If you’re feeling down during your recovery, it can increase your pain. Do your best to stay positive during your recovery.
Spend time with friends and family, watch a funny movie, or do whatever brings a smile to your face to keep up that positive energy.
How to Contact Inspired Spine
Inspired Spine surgical procedures have been designed with your best interests in mind. Our revolutionary minimally invasive spinal surgeries, OLLIF and MIS-DTIF, are changing the way doctors and patients approach spine surgery.