If you are planning to have back surgery in the near future, it can be very helpful to do some preparation ahead of time to make certain that your recovery goes as smoothly as possible. Also, you will want to know in advance, what types of restrictions may be placed on your post operative mobility, so that you can know what to expect following your surgery. In most cases, your doctor will provide you with this sort of information in advance of the surgery, and you will be given more instructions following the your back surgery.
Preparations Prior to Back Surgery
In most cases, pain control will be the most important aspect of recovery from back surgery. If you are in too much pain, you will not be able to walk, and move, in ways that help promote faster healing. In many cases, you will be on a narcotic pain medication for the first few days, followed by NSAIDS, or Tylenol. If you can get post operative pain medication prescriptions filled before surgery, then do so. Also know that many post back surgery complaints, such as constipation, are a result of narcotic pain medication, so have a lot of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods available to prevent constipation, and to help aid healing.
If you are having back surgery that involves fusing part of your spinal column, then your doctor will not want you to be bending over, or doing any lifting. Because of this, you will need to plan in advance to have frequently used items, clothing, and food preparation utensils, moved to a level that does not require bending, or overextending. Move your dishes down, and your pots and pans up onto the counter.
Put the loose clothing, and pajamas that you plan to wear following surgery in a place that you can reach without bending over. The same goes for toiletry items, and anything else that you will want in handy spot. You may also want to get a grabber device from a medical supply store, as well as a toilet seat riser, which will make getting on and off of the toilet much easier following your back surgery. If you are not having any sort of fusion operation, then your doctor will want you to be as mobile as possible, so use of devices such as grabbers is discouraged.
Postoperative Recovery From Back Surgery
Once you have had your surgery, make certain that your pain control is at an acceptable level, and if it is not, tell your doctor. In most cases, walking, and changes in position in be are encourage to prevent stiffness, and scar tissue formation. You will probably be able to sleep in any position that you find comfortable, but be certain to have a lot of pillows, and small blankets on hand that can be tucked behind your neck, head, upper back, and between your knees, or under them.
It is also an excellent idea to have someone with you for the first few days home after your surgery. While it is good for you to be up and around, you may need help with certain tasks, or tire very easily. You may also be groggy from medication. Having a person with you to prepare meals, help you change positions in bed, and spot you during your first few times out of bed is a sensible idea.
In the beginning, the use of ice packs may help prevent swelling after surgery. You may be told to use ice packs on and off at regular intervals during the first 48 hours after your back surgery. This is another reason to have a family or friend with you, because someone has to run back and forth to the freezer with the ice packs. Heat packs are not a good idea at the surgical site during the first few days, as the heat will increase the blood flow to the area, thus increasing swelling. However, if your surgery was on your lower back, and you are having pain in your upper back from positioning issues, then the use of a heat pack, or heating pad, may be beneficial to ease that type of muscle pain.
Eat well, and get plenty of sleep. If you plan to fill the freezer and cupboards with easy to prepare foods for after surgery, then make healthy meals in advance, and freeze them in smaller portions. Or, find the most healthful, prepared food that you can, as eating junk will not help you heal properly. Getting enough sleep generally is dependent on the control of your pain, and changing positions in bed often. It may take some experimenting to find out what positions are the most comfortable during the first days after back surgery. You will also want to plan in advance to be able to take your pain medication when you are ready to go to sleep.
Finally, if you are supposed to move, then move. Expect that there will be some discomfort despite pain medication, and know that the more that you get up and walk, and do your post operative exercises, the faster you will be fully back in action. As always, follow your doctor’s orders to the letter, and call him, or her, if you have any questions, or concerns once you are at home.
Pamela Velkuilin APNP
Practical Advice for Recovery From Back Surgery