Optimize Your Spine Surgery Recovery Process

When it comes to maximizing your spine surgery recovery, the name of the game is often planning. (And believe us when we say, there’s a lot to think about!) To give yourself a leg up over what can be a lengthy healing process, you’ll want go into spine surgery as your most healthy self. You’ll also want to consider all the hidden in’s and out’s of the recovery process. We’re talking about all those little details that fall through the cracks when we’re stressed out, like “Who’s going to take care of my pets while I’m recovering?”

To help you consider these matters–and more–our experts have created a laundry list of our top pre- and postoperative tips. To optimize your spine surgery recovery, simply refer to this handy list!

Step 1: Boost Your Health & Enhance Your Well-Being

  • Ditch those unhealthy habits, like smoking: Unfortunately, nicotine (the active ingredient in tobacco products) is known to inhibit blood flow to your spine. Because blood transports healing nutrients to the spine, smoking–yes, even vaping!–can delay the healing process. We also know that the vasoconstriction caused by smoking hinders the production of new bone. If you’re undergoing spinal fusion surgery, this bone growth is key to ensuring a successful fusion.
  • Watch your weight & get fit: In the months before your surgery, try to achieve a healthy BMI by engaging in gentle exercise and dieting. If you need help brainstorming ideas for meal prep, consult with a nutritionist. Join a yoga class, hit the gym, or hire a personal trainer to help you build strength and optimize joint flexibility. By losing those excess pounds and staying fit, you will place less strain on your joints in the days following your surgery. (And, ultimately, this also means less postoperative pain!)
  • Review your medication & medical history with your doctor: Have an honest conversation with your doctor about your medical history, including any medical issues that could impact your recovery. Don’t forget to give your doctor a complete list of your medications. Certain pharmaceuticals, like warfarin, enhance the rate of blood loss during surgery. Your doctor will want to weigh the benefits these drugs vs. their risks.
  • Treat all infections prior to surgery: In particular, dental and urinary infections can cause severe complications in the days following surgery. These problems can include bacterial infections that attack the lining of the heart or the bones of the spine. Resolve any bacterial infections prior to undergoing surgery.
  • Visit a counselor: If you’re dreading the thought of surgery, don’t hesitate to meet with a counselor. A skilled therapist can equip you coping mechanisms to handle pre-surgery stress.

Step 2: Balance Out Your Nutrition

In the weeks before your procedure, ask your doctor about supplements that you can take to accelerate the healing process. For example, vitamin D and calcium both encourage bone growth. Zinc aids in wound healing. And, certain substances (like vitamin C and iron) are depleted during surgery, so it pays to boost the levels of these.

In contrast, some supplements are not safe to take in the days before surgery. They can increase bleeding and interfere with sedation or pain control. Always treat supplements as though they are medications and report these to your doctor. Your doctor will let you know which supplements can actually do more harm than good when it comes to your recovery.

In the days following your procedure, eat foods that are high in protein and fiber. The protein will aid with muscle repair and the fiber will prevent constipation–a common side effect of pain medications. Some foods that are high in fiber include:

  • Black beans
  • Peas
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Artichokes
  • Raspberries
  • Blackberries
  • Avocadoes
  • Oats (Barley, Oatmeal, etc.)
  • Almonds

Step 3: Prepare for Surgery Day

  • Recruit a friend or family member to drive you home and help you set up shop: If you are having same-day or outpatient surgery, then you probably won’t be allowed to drive yourself home afterward. Ask a spouse, family member, or friend to be on-call to give you a ride home and help you settle in. If you need to schedule a dog-walker or pet-sitter to take care of your fur babies while you heal, schedule help well in advance of your surgery date.
  • Keep pain medicine on hand: Make sure that pain medications, including over-the-counter staples like Tylenol, will be within easy reach. Fill all prescriptions (including your usual scripts plus prescription-strength pain meds) before your procedure. And, don’t forget to stock up on laxatives and anti-nausea meds… just in case.
  • Buy ice packs & heating pads: Especially if you’ve just had joint surgery, your doctor may recommend that you follow the RICE method – Rest, Ice, Compression, & Elevation. In preparation for this, purchase ice packs and heating pads to help you fight pain between medication doses.
  • Stock up on easy-to-make meals & snacks: Make sure that your kitchen is well-stocked with nutritious (but convenient) snacks. If you live in a big city, consider signing up for a meal delivery service (not a meal-kit service… these are great, but require effort!)
  • Laughter (or rather, entertainment) is the best medicine: While you’re recuperating in bed, boost your morale by watching that Netflix series you’ve always wanted to try. If watching tv isn’t your thing, try reading a book, downloading interactive games to play on your computer/smartphone, listening to music, or investing in an adult coloring book. Anything that keeps your mind active will help you take the focus off of your pain.

Final Step: Surgery-Proof Your House

Just as we childproof a home when our grandkids visit, it’s important to surgery-proof your home for hidden dangers. When we’re healthy, we don’t notice those cords that present a tripping hazard… simply because it’s pretty easy to navigate our way around them. But, nothing is worse than tripping and falling after your procedure. So, investigate your house or apartment with a critical eye. Slip-proof bathroom surfaces, secure loose carpets or temporarily remove throw rugs, and tape down any electrical wires. Also, consider investing in the following items that may make your life easier:

  • Toilet risers
  • Shower chairs or grab bars for the bathroom/shower
  • Shower scrubber (aka, a long-handled sponge)
  • Grippers (to grab out-of-reach items)
  • Soshoehorn shoe horn (to aid in applying shoes and socks)
  • Slip-on shoes (with slip resistant bottoms)
  • Walking equipment (like canes, walkers, or crutches – these may be covered by your insurance!)
  • A stable chair with two arms (to assist you in safely rising from a seated position)
  • Extra Pillows

Thinking about having spine surgery? Need medical advice or a second opinion? Our board-certified, fellowship-trained spine surgeons are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of neck and back conditions. To reap the benefits of our minimally invasive procedures, including faster recovery times and less pain, contact our spine specialists at the Advanced Spine Center today!