Once you’ve made the decision to have back surgery, it’s essential that you learn everything you can about your upcoming procedure in order to ensure a smooth and uneventful recovery. It can be frustrating to not be able to return to your normal activities right away, but if you know what to expect after back surgery, you will be able to avoid situations and activities that might put you at risk for re-injury.
Immediately After Your Surgery
Depending on the type of back surgery you’ve had, you should expect to spend from one to several days in the hospital following your procedure. During this time, you will probably start to feel the positive effects of the surgery, including less pain and newly regained mobility. You may be given pain medications to help ease any discomfort, or you may not need them.
It’s possible that you will resume your daily activities fairly quickly — for instance, in many cases, you can shower after 48 hours, comb your hair, put on makeup, etc.
Once you’re home, you will likely be able to do very minor things, such as walk at a metered pace, lift no more than 5 to 8 pounds (confirm this with your doctor) and many of the less strenuous activities you do on a regular basis.
Some surgeries will have a relatively short overall recovery period time, while others may demand a more lengthy and detailed recovery regimen. For the most part, many will follow the same timeline — at least for the first two or three weeks.
The First Few Weeks
During the first few weeks after your surgery, it is extremely important that you follow your doctor’s exact orders. This is the period of time when some of the most significant healing will happen in your body. This period of time can make or break the success of your procedure. This is when your body will be working its hardest to repair and rebuild healthy new tissue at the sight of the injury and subsequent surgery.
You may have an incision site that demands special care. Most incisions will be superficially healed within 10 to 14 days. This does not mean that the underlying tissues have completely healed, nor does it mean that the skin has regained its full strength and elasticity in the area. Keep this in mind when you engage in activities such as showering or anything that could put stress on the wound. You will be instructed on how to care for the incision site; be sure to keep any appointments for suture checks/removal, and don’t attempt to remove the sutures yourself, unless your doctor has given you instructions to do so.
Prescribed exercise will vary and is dependent on the location and type of procedure you’ve undergone. You may be advised to walk at a moderate pace or be given small exercises to strengthen certain muscles. There is no one-size-fits-all set; this is another good reason to find out exactly what to expect after back surgery.
With some surgeries, you can expect to be able to resume your normal activities within six to eight weeks. With others, you may be facing a few months. Talk with your surgeon about his or her expectations for your recovery and how long they think you may need to wait before you can resume your daily tasks. This not only will help you understand what you should expect after your back surgery, but also allow you to plan accordingly with your work and other commitments.
Diet and Rest
Be sure to eat a well-balanced diet high in proteins (as long as there are no other underlying issues that would preclude you from doing so) and stay well-hydrated. If you are normally a very active person, you may want to cut back your consumption while you’re less active. Additionally, it’s important that you receive enough rest, since healing takes a lot of energy and you can expect to be a little more tired than normal. All of these things will go a long way toward helping support your body while it’s in the repair process.
The First Few Months
Once you’ve gotten through the first few weeks of recovery, the sailing becomes a little smoother (and typically more predictable.) You’ll begin to see a marked improvement in your mobility, pain level and perhaps even increased energy. The work isn’t done yet, though!
Usually within one-to-three months after your surgery, your surgeon will recommend that you start physical therapy. Depending on your needs, this can be just a couple of times a week, or several. Your doctor and physical therapist will work together to determine the best course of action and decide on a duration that would best benefit your unique needs. It’s important that you attend all of your appointments — it may be hard work, but the reward of a strong, healthy back at the end will make it all worth it!
As your healing continues to progress, you will be able to start increasing your activity level. Make sure to consult with your doctor or surgeon before taking on new activities that might compromise your surgery. It may be tempting to surge ahead, but take it easy — having a good idea of what to expect after back surgery and the many recovery phases afterward will keep you from overdoing it and potentially losing any ground you may have gained.
With this general guide of what you can expect after back surgery, you’ll have a better understanding of the time investment you will be making to regain your back health.