You’ve met your spine surgeon. You’ve set the date for your scoliosis correction surgery. As your surgical date approaches, it’s important to know what to expect before and after your procedure. Taking the time now to create a pre- and post-surgical plan will provide you peace of mind so you can focus on the most important aspect of this process: your recovery.
What to Expect Before Scoliosis Correction Surgery
The weeks and days leading up to your surgery may be busier than you initially anticipated. Be sure to discuss all of the pre-surgical requirements you will need to follow with your surgeon.
Bloodwork is an invaluable tool in helping to determine how well your body can handle general anesthesia. Your organs such as your liver and kidneys must metabolize the anesthetic drugs that will be used to keep you asleep during your procedure. Blood work can show how well your organs are functioning and whether or not special care must be taken to choose certain drugs over others.
Increase overall physical fitness
Although it can be difficult to exercise extensively with scoliosis, increasing your physical fitness can aid in the recovery process. Swimming, specially designed scoliosis routines and gentle yoga are good options.
Many times, you will require a blood transfusion before, during or after your scoliosis surgery. You can donate your own blood, ensuring a perfect match. Family members or friends that share the same blood type can also donate on your behalf, reducing or eliminating the need to source blood from a blood bank.
You will need to have imaging tests done prior to surgery. These will allow your spine surgeon to determine the best approach for your scoliosis correction surgery. Some of these can include the following.
- CT scan
- ECG (electrocardiogram)
Insurance and other paperwork
Prior to your surgery, your spine surgeon will seek what is known as “pre-authorization” from your insurance company. This allows your surgeon to inform you of what will and won’t be covered under your insurance. It can also determine what type of instrumentation is permissible, whether there are any restrictions on drugs, how long you can stay in the hospital, etc.
It is also very helpful to fill out as much paperwork as possible prior to your surgery date so you can focus on the pre-op preparations when you check in the day of your procedure.
If you smoke tobacco, you will be instructed to quit prior to your surgery. Tobacco use has been found to greatly decrease the spine’s ability to heal from a fusion surgery. Smoking cessation programs are available not only through your doctor but also various organizations. Ask your primary care doctor for recommendations if you’re not sure where to start.
Make arrangements for post-op care
Before you have scoliosis correction surgery, be sure to make arrangements for daily care. Once you arrive back home, you will need to rest and you will not be able to perform some everyday activities, such as cooking and cleaning.
Transportation and childcare are also other factors to consider before your procedure. Have assistance organized and in place so that you can rest in the days following your procedure.
Scoliosis Correction Surgery
A large part of being prepared is knowing what to expect during your operation and immediately afterward.
Scoliosis correction surgery requires general anesthesia. This means you are completely asleep for the length of your surgical procedure. Once you are anesthetized, your surgeon will begin.
Scoliosis surgery requires putting your vertebrae in a better alignment and performing a “fusion”, which means creating conditions at surgery that eventually lead to bones growing together. Instrumentation such as plates, screws and rods are almost always used to help obtain the proper angles and healing of the fused vertebrae.
Usually, this surgery takes several hours. Once your surgery is complete, you will be moved to recovery to wake up from anesthesia. You will then be taken to a room for the remainder of your hospital stay.
Recovering from scoliosis correction surgery
The amount of time you’ll spend in the hospital following your scoliosis surgery may vary, but expect to stay in the hospital several days. There is also a strong possibility that you will need to spend additional time away from home in an in-patient rehab facility. Once you’re discharged from the hospital, you’ll need to follow your doctor’s instructions. This is vital to ensure the best recovery and outcome possible.
You will be more tired than usual following surgery. Be sure to get plenty of rest. Pain control is essential during this period so be sure to take your pain medications as directed. Staying ahead of it will help prevent stress-related cortisol release, which can slow healing.
Eat healthy, well-balanced meals and drink plenty of water. If you have dietary restrictions, discuss these with your doctor so they can help guide you in making the right food choices to optimize your recovery.
Avoiding lifting or twisting. Both of these activities can cause injury to your surgical sites and slow or halt healing.
While vigorous exercise is out of the question, short, frequent and gentle walks are an excellent way to keep fit during this recovery period. They will increase blood flow and help keep your muscles toned.
Weeks Two to Four
At this point, the pain from your surgery should be decreasing and you won’t require as much pain medication to control discomfort. If you work in a light duty job, you may be able to return to your tasks on a modified work schedule.
It’s important that you continue following your doctor’s instructions on what activities you can participate in. This includes lifting objects or driving.
Weeks Five to Eight
After the initial recovery period, you can start to increase your activity levels. If your work is not physically demanding, you may be able to return to work after a month or so (your doctor can help you determine the best time to head back to work), but many patients require more time off from work than this. If your job is physically demanding, time off from work will be longer. During this time, you will also need to attend all of your follow-up appointments. These may include x-rays or other imaging tests to ensure that everything is healing as expected.
Risks Associated with Scoliosis Correction Surgery
It is also important to understand that there can be other factors and complications associated with any surgery. Becoming familiar with these risks can help you take the necessary steps to minimize them. If you have concerns, be sure to have a candid discussion with your doctor prior to surgery.
Some of the risks that can be associated with surgery include the following.
- Blood clots
- Surgical site infection
- Neurological dysfunction
- Instrumentation issues
- Failure of bone healing
Choosing to have scoliosis correction surgery is an important decision for your health. Preparing for your surgery will help you recover more quickly and keep you focused on the healing process ahead.