There are quite a few reasons you might need back surgery. Back pain is the most common type of chronic pain in the United States, and if the pain is impacting your quality of life or functionality, you could be considering surgery.
There are a few different types of back surgery that are most frequently performed.
These types of surgery include:
- Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF): If you have a herniated disc, your doctor might talk about what’s called a discectomy with you. The discs in your spine are like shock absorbers that cushion your vertebrae. When one of the discs slips out of its place and bulges, which is also known as becoming herniated, it can put pressure on your spinal nerve, which is what causes pain. A surgeon, to alleviate the pain, will remove all or part of the disc.
- Laminectomy: During this surgery, the lamina is removed. This is part of the bone making up the vertebrae in your spine. You could also have ligaments or bone spurs removed during this type of procedure. When these bones, spurs, and ligaments are removed it creates more space in the spinal column.
- Spinal fusion: A spinal fusion is used when your spine requires strengthening or stabilization to prevent movement that’s unwanted. If the vertebrae are grinding together or if movement is causing pinched nerves, then spinal fusion could be needed. During this procedure, screws are inserted into the vertebrae that are affected, as are cable guides. Then, when they’re tightened, the vertebrae are held into place.
What about the reasons you might have back surgery?
- You have a slipped disc that isn’t getting better on its own.
- You have bone spurs in your spine, putting pressure on your spinal cord.
- You could have a spinal condition like stenosis that causes symptoms like weakness.
- You experience weakness in your arms and legs.
- You have trouble walking or using your hands.
- You lost bladder or bowel control because of a nerve problem in your back.
- You have a tumor in your spinal cord.
- You’ve broken or dislocated a bone in your back.
With those things in mind, the following are some general things to know and tips to prepare for back surgery.
If you smoke, you should quit well before your back surgery. Your health care provider should go over this with you. Quitting smoking is the best way to improve your outcome after back surgery.
If you don’t quit, studies have shown it can significantly interfere with your bones’ ability to fuse together after surgery.
Smoking also leads to an increased risk of complications like poor wound healing.
Tell Your Doctor About Medicines and Supplements You Take
Well in advance of your surgery, bring a list to your doctor of any medications you take, whether they’re prescription or over-the-counter. You should also tell them about any herbal remedies or supplements you use. Many things can cause bleeding, interfere with anesthesia or impact your recovery.
When you have a complete list of everything you take, your doctor can go over it and give you further instructions.
Eat Plenty of Protein
When you eat plenty of healthy protein before any kind of surgery, it can help you maintain your muscle mass, and it can help promote wound healing. These are things that can shorten your recovery time. You have increased protein needs during times of stress as well, which include surgery.
Surgical guidelines indicate that you should increase your protein several weeks before a procedure. You should aim to have anywhere from 1.2 to 2 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day, meaning if you weigh 150 pounds, you would want anywhere from 80 to 135 grams of protein before your surgery.
Along with protein, try to include fiber in your diet too. Many pain medications and the lack of activity following back surgery can cause constipation.
Avoid a lot of processed and surgery foods, which can increase the risk of infections after a procedure.
Being physically active as much as you can before surgery is a good idea, as long as your doctor gives you the all-clear.
The physical inactivity required after your surgery might make you more prone to develop blood clots.
Before your surgery, try to walk or swim for at least 30 minutes a day or find something else that keeps you active.
Sometimes people think that they should be inactive before surgery, and unless your doctor instructs you not to exercise, you should try to.
Lose Weight If You Can
If you’re overweight and you’re going into back surgery, it can increase your risk of complications. It can also make the surgery take longer because the surgeon can’t work as efficiently.
If you are overweight and you have some time before your back surgery, losing just 10 pounds can help your surgeon’s visibility, and it can cut down on the possibility of post-op complications.
Planning for Your Recovery
When you’re planning for recovery from back surgery, there are a lot of things to think about.
You may have limited mobility, and you should have at least one person who will serve as a caretaker for you.
You should also have a pain management plan. You will have some pain after back surgery, and you might not want to take opioids if possible because they are highly addictive. Talk about your pain management concerns with your doctor beforehand, so you’re on the same page.
Your doctor should go over everything with you as far as warning signs of complications, and also what you should eat and drink and what you can or can’t do.
You should avoid staying in bed for prolonged periods after surgery if you can help it because that increases the risk of blood clots.
Overall, if you can physically and mentally prepare for back surgery, you’re likely to have a shorter recovery time and less potential for complications.