Once you are home from the outpatient spine surgery center, it is time to focus on important aspects of your recovery, such as allowing your spine to heal properly, eating healthy foods, getting a good night’s sleep, and increasing activity as instructed by your surgeon. The extra effort you make now can make your recovery smoother and get you back to your normal activities sooner. The best advice is to closely follow the surgeon’s orders for a safe and speedy recovery!
#1. Spine Care
Take short walks as often as you can, and gradually increase your distance each day. Daily exercise is important for recovery and to build strength and maintain muscle tone.
Avoid activities that require bending, twisting, lifting more than 5 pounds (about 1 gallon of milk), or push/pulling. Do not stand or sit for too long. If you have had a spinal fusion, avoid lifting objects above your head until the fusion is fully healed. Your surgeon will keep you posted on the healing status of your fusion.
Talk to your surgeon about whether you can go up or down stairs. For some people, stair climbing may be restricted for the first week or two after surgery.
#2. Pain Management
Take your prescribed pain medicines as directed and make sure to call in refills on time so you are not left with gaps in pain management. Don’t take more pain medication that instructed and call your surgeon if your pain is not well controlled by your prescribed medication.
Other non-drug pain relief treatments include moist heat (not directly on an unhealed incision), gentle exercise, massage, short rest periods, and frequent re-positioning.
#3. When to Call Your Surgeon
Notify your surgeon immediately if you have fever or chills, night sweats, persistent drainage from your incision, opening of your incision, new onset/worsening pain or weakness, chest pain or shortness of breath, calf pain, or sudden loss of bowel or bladder function.
#4. Healthy Eating
Establish a balanced, low-fat diet rich in fresh vegetables and fruit. Since you will be less active during your recovery, avoid heavy, high calorie, or fattening foods. Eating well is essential for a successful recovery and will help keep your weight under control after your recovery is over.
#5. Bathing and Incision Care
Follow your surgeon’s instructions on when and how to bathe. Surgeons typically recommend keeping the skin around your incision clean and dry for at least 4 days after surgery. Avoid tub baths until the incision has healed and you are cleared by your surgeon.
Pain in the area of the incision is expected immediately after surgery and should subside as healing progresses. Follow your surgeon’s instructions on when to have sutures or staples removed. Some incisions are closed using dissolving stitches or strips that fall off on their own.
#6. How to Lay in Bed after Spine Surgery
- Good sleep helps you heal faster. Ask your surgeon what the best sleep position is for you and how to get into and out of bed. The following steps may take stress off of the spine and back, but make sure to check with your surgeon first: Sleep on your back with your upper back, shoulders, and head raised slightly, using an adjustable bed or using a wedge/supportive pillows.
- Place a pillow or rolled up blanked under the back of your knees so your hips and knees are slightly bent.
- When getting out of bed, use the “log roll method.” While laying on your back, bend your knees and keep them together. Roll onto your side keeping your hips and shoulders in line and turning at the same time, so your spine doesn’t twist. Push yourself up using your arms (lead with your top arm) and let your legs bend over the side of the bed so that you end up in a seated position.
#7. How to Sit After Spine Surgery
Sitting puts the most stress on your back. Your surgeon may give you suggestions on how long you can sit after surgery before getting up to walk around. For example, you may be asked to get up every half-hour to stand/walk around for 10 minutes.
Avoid long car rides if you can while you are healing.
The general rule is to never sit with your knees higher than your hips. Put a wedge or firm pillow on your car seat, sofa, and favorite chair. Purchase a raised toilet seat (it fits on top of your current toilet seat) preferably one with arms to assist you when sitting and getting up off the toilet.
When getting up from a seat, gently move hips to the end of the seat and use your arms to push yourself up with your arms while simultaneously pushing down with your legs.
#8. Post-Operative Bracing
If your surgeon prescribes a back brace for your recovery, make sure to wear it as instructed. The brace is designed to support/stabilize your neck or back and limit movement of the spinal levels fused during surgery. Some back braces are simple corset-like supports, while others are more rigid and are fitted to your body.
#9. Ask for Help
Have a list of chores that friends and family can help you with to make it easier to ask for help. Your visitors can look at the list and see what is most helpful to you, such as doing a load of laundry, taking out the garbage, washing dishes, and grocery shopping.
#10. Physical Therapy
Some patients require home care or assistance from a visiting nurse, physical therapist, or home health aid. The outpatient surgery center staff will assess your needs and make arrangements for services. Some patients may be discharged from an outpatient spine surgery center directly to a rehabilitation facility.
Physical therapy (PT) may begin as early as the day following surgery. PT is an important part of recovery because it helps you regain and build strength, flexibility, and physical endurance. A home exercise program is developed for you by the physical therapist under the surgeon’s direction. This exercise program includes pictures and written instructions how to safely perform each movement. As you progress in your recovery, the types of exercises and/or repetitions may be adjusted to help you continue to progress.
The healthy habits you adopt as part of your recovery from spine surgery are also great ways to help prevent future or additional spine/health-related problems. So, maintain that positive outlook on life and keep exercising, eating well, and getting plenty of rest, and you can stay on that recovery road for a long time!