Once you have decided to undergo the process, you will naturally want to know how long it takes to recover from back surgery. Surgery is a highly effective option for a wide range of spinal issues, but recovery from it can be a challenging process. Know what to expect in advance so you can make preparations to return to an active lifestyle as quickly as possible.
The following is an overview of a typical back surgery recovery process, as well as an explanation of how age and other factors can influence your return to activity. Use this information along with discussions with your doctor to help yourself feel more confident about the road ahead.
Typical Recovery Process
From the many common back surgeries, people are back on their feet and comfortably engaging in most everyday activities after just a few weeks. Larger surgeries can take months to recover from however. The speed of your recover depends on the following factors: how many spinal levels are being operated on, whether your are having a fusion or not, and how invasive your surgeons techniques are.
On the day of your back surgery, your main objective will be to rest. While some patients are discharged on the day of their operation, most stay in the hospital for one to five days. You will be able to go home once you have good control of your pain and are able to walk, eat and use the restroom independently.
Over the next few weeks, you will gradually increase your activity level according to your surgeon’s recommendations. He or she may prescribe physical therapy to help push your recovery along: Exercise is a crucial part of your recovery, since strengthening your back muscles can improve mobility and reduce pain. Still, there will be activity restrictions. Pay attention to your surgeon’s advice, and let pain be a warning not to push yourself too hard.
The worst of the pain will likely be gone 1-4 weeks post-operation. From then on, you will continue to exercise and increase your strength and independence until your surgeon determines that you have fully recovered. How long to recover from back surgery fully, depends largely on your particular procedure.
How Age Affects How Long to Recover from Back Surgery
Young people are generally more capable of a faster recovery from back surgery than their older counterparts — many processes in the body simply slow down as people age. For example, older people produce less collagen, which is a protein crucial for tissue growth and regeneration. The aging body also produces less COX-2, which helps bones form.
No matter your age, your attitude also helps determine the speed of your recovery from back surgery. If you meet the challenges head-on, follow your surgeon’s advice and take the recommended steps to improve your health, you are more likely to have a positive experience.
Other Important Factors
Age can influence the pace of your recovery from back surgery, but it is just one of a range of factors. The following factors also determine how quickly you go from the operating room to full strength.
Type of Procedure
Spinal fusion is a procedure with a particularly lengthy recovery. If there are issues with the stability or alignment of your spine, your surgeon may elect to place a bone graft between two or more vertebra. This graft must fuse to the surrounding bone, which can take up to a year. While patients who undergo a fusion will be able to resume most activities after a month or two, their surgeon will likely recommend that they avoid particularly strenuous activities like contact sports for up to one year.
Other back surgeries like spinal decompression, foraminotomies and laminectomies do not depend on spinal fusion and thus usually involve quicker recoveries. Nonetheless, remember to be cautious with your spine health no matter which procedure you undergo.
Your Physical Condition
Patients in better physical condition before their operation generally experience a faster recovery from back surgery. Age has an influence on your physical condition, but it is not the sole determinant. Steps like exercising regularly, eating well and not smoking can all improve your outcome from surgery. If you have questions about your condition, speak with your doctor. He or she can resolve doubts and provide you with active steps you can take to improve or maintain your health.
Following Your Surgeon’s Recommendations
Your surgeon will work with you to develop the best possible approach to your recovery from back surgery based on the above factors. Follow his or her advice on how often to take certain medications or how soon to return to a particular activity. Adhering to these instructions will help avoid setbacks and, instead, will hasten your recovery.
Recovery from back surgery often requires a good deal of effort, but most patients are able to make a strong comeback. Your age can play a role when determining how long to recover from back surgery, but following your surgeon’s advice and generally practicing good health habits is just as — if not more — important. You may use this guide to develop expectations for your recovery from back surgery and to formulate questions for your surgeon.
Dr. Michael G. Kaiser is a nationally recognized neurosurgeon in North Jersey and is a proud member of Neurosurgeons of New Jersey, practicing out of their Ridgewood office conveniently located on East Ridgewood Avenue. Dr. Kaiser specializes in complex and minimally invasive spine surgeries.