Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine has an unusual curvature. In its mild forms, it can be asymptomatic or a cosmetic concern and cause slight discomfort, while in its more severe forms, it can be completely debilitating. There are many conservative treatments that bring many patients relief, but if you’ve tried them and you aren’t satisfied, you and your doctor may determine that surgery is the best option. In this case, it’s helpful to learn about the procedure you’ll undergo and the factors that affect scoliosis surgery recovery time.
To truly fix a scoliosis, spinal fusion is necessary. This is a surgery in which the surgeon places bone grafts between vertebrae, which over time causes the bones to grow together. Usually metal screws and rods are also placed to aid the healing process. This gives the spine more rigidity and is an effective way to keep its curvature from becoming more severe. The surgeon may also try to straighten the spine as much as possible prior to placing the graft, but there is a limit to the spine’s flexibility. In many cases, the goal in scoliosis surgery is not to achieve a perfectly straight spine but rather to prevent the condition from worsening. Nonetheless, many patients experience a smooth recovery and achieve a more comfortable and active lifestyle after their operation.
The duration of this recovery can vary, depending on the invasiveness of the techniques used, but generally speaking these are long recoveries that are measured on the order of months. Bone fusion can take from six months to a year, which means patients typically wait at least that long before returning to strenuous activities. Even so, most patients have returned to everyday activity by around a month or two. The following is an overview of several factors that can influence your particular recovery.
Younger people generally experience a faster scoliosis surgery recovery time. There are many processes in the body that simply slow down with age, which can hamper your spine’s ability to quickly bounce back from the stress of an operation. For example, older people produce less collagen, which is a protein found in connective tissue. It’s crucial for tissue growth and regeneration, so if its levels are reduced, damaged tissue will need more time to heal. Aging bodies also produce less COX-2, a compound that helps bones heal. Spinal fusion surgery success depends on whether the bone graft fuses to the surrounding vertebrae, which means COX-2 is helpful to have around.
However, this doesn’t mean that older patients shouldn’t expect to have successful recoveries. Young people may get back to everyday life a bit more quickly, but the end result is often the same for both young and old. The most important part is following your surgeon’s advice and taking care of your body while it heals.
In addition to your age, the severity of your condition can also influence your scoliosis surgery recovery time. For example, your surgeon may determine that you need spinal fusion at several vertebral levels. Increasing the number of implanted bone grafts is effective at stabilizing especially severe forms of scoliosis, but it is more invasive and puts greater strain on your body. As a result, multilevel fusion may require additional considerations in the months that follow your operation. For example, your return to activity may be delayed relative to a return from single level fusion, and you may be advised to wear a back brace for a longer period of time.
While your age and the severity of your condition may be out of your control, there are still many steps you can take to improve your chances of a positive outcome. Patients who are generally in good health prior to their operation stand a better chance of a shorter scoliosis surgery recovery time. A healthy diet and regular exercise can make your body stronger and more resistant to the strenuous effects of surgery. On the other hand, smoking and drinking alcohol can impede healing. Smoking is particularly adverse to scoliosis surgery recovery because it can slow or even prevent bone fusion.
Regular exercise is especially important because the strength of your back muscles is an important determinant of your recovery. Strong back muscles can improve mobility and reduce the strain on a healing spine, which can hasten your scoliosis surgery recovery.
Regular exercise before your scoliosis surgery is beneficial, but actively participating in physical therapy after your operation is even more important. Timing is crucial, as you want to increase your activity as soon as you can, but you don’t want to overdo it. Your surgeon will work with you to create a plan for your return to activity that will help you understand important milestones and what you can do to reach them.
Strictly following your surgeon’s physical therapy recommendations will not only quicken your scoliosis surgery recovery, but it will also increase your chances of a comfortable, active lifestyle in the long term.
The road to recovery from scoliosis surgery can be challenging. Although there are some factors that influence the pace of your recovery that are out of your control,there are many things you can do to increase the likelihood of a complete return to activity. In addition to the items above, a positive attitude can be a big help. Studies have shown that patients who are in good spirits throughout their treatment and rehabilitation generally report less pain and a faster recovery.