Spine surgery is usually recommended when pain is unrelenting, affects your quality of life and conservative treatments do not seem to work. You may have surgery to relieve pain due to nerve compression by removing bone or a damaged spinal disc. There are many techniques performed to treat your back, following which you need to take a few precautions to improve outcomes and safely get you back to function.
Medication is usually prescribed for pain. Start taking them as prescribed and do not wait for the pain to get worse. If you expect to engage in an activity that may cause pain, take your medicine at least half an hour in advance.
Caring for your surgical wound is crucial. The dressing usually comes off in 7-10 days. Initially there may be a little pain and redness. Contact your doctor if you notice any increasing redness, warmth, fluid drainage or signs of opening up as these may indicate infection. The wound should be kept dry for the first 5-7 days. Avoid smoking and using tobacco as these will delay healing.
Your doctor will advise some modification in your activities. Do not sit for more than 20-30 minutes. Sleep in a position that does not strain the back and ask your doctor about when you can engage in sexual activity. A brace may be recommended to support your back and should be worn when walking or sitting for extended periods. Avoid lifting anything greater than 10 pounds and use your knees to squat down instead of bending at the waist.
Taking short walks and climbing up and down stairs are permitted if it does not cause discomfort, but try to minimize this for the first 2 weeks. Driving should be avoided during this period.
Your doctor and physical therapist will gradually build up your strength and mobility and tell you when it is safe to return to activities such as sports.
How fast will you recover? It depends on your condition and the procedure carried out. Recovery after a disc removal is fairly quick. You may still feel some pain, numbness or weakness along the affected nerve but this usually resolves in a few weeks. Recovery after fusion surgery or laminectomy (removal of bone at the back of the spinal cord) is slower and may take 3-4 months or even a year for complete healing. How well you respond to surgery also depends on your age and general health condition. Modern surgery performed through small incisions promise an even faster recovery.