The Dos and Don'ts of Back Surgery Recovery

January 03, 2019

Woman at physical therapy visit
Returning to work after spinal surgery can seem daunting, but you can take steps

Returning to work after spinal surgery can seem daunting, but you can take steps to keep yourself safe and prevent further injury.

Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN

According to the American Chiropractic Association, as many as 31 million American adults experience back pain at some point in their lives. For many, this means dealing with back pain at work, which interrupts your workday and makes your daily tasks that much harder.

For many, doctors recommend spinal surgery to ease problems and prevent complications from many types of spine issues that cause back pain. But back surgery recovery is a big deal, and you might be worried about returning to work after.

Which Back Surgery Do I Need?

Depending on your needs and symptoms, your doctor may perform one of a variety of spinal surgeries:

  1. Spinal fusion uses two bones in your spine together.
  2. Discectomy removes part or all of a spinal disc.
  3. Laminectomy removes bone or bone spurs to reduce pressure on the spinal column or spinal nerves.
  4. Foraminotomy widens the area where nerves exit your spinal column.

Your recovery depends on the type of back surgery you have, your overall health and any complications that may arise as a result of your spinal problem. As you get back to work after back surgery, it's important to keep some do's and don'ts in mind to help you heal as safely and quickly as possible.

Back Surgery Recovery: The Dos

No matter what type of spinal surgery you have, there are some important things to keep in mind as you return to work.

  1. Do expect some pain. It's normal for pain to persist after back surgery, sometimes for weeks. But it's easy to help manage pain so you can work more comfortably. Your doctor may recommend medications, hot or cold compresses or physical therapy to help ease your symptoms.
  2. Do wear a brace. Your doctor may recommend a back brace to help stabilize your spine and manage back pain at work. Your doctor will instruct you on how long to wear the brace each day.
  3. Do keep in touch with your doctor. If you experience worsening pain or any other symptom after surgery, it's important to contact your doctor immediately. Prompt treatment is key to avoiding potential complications.

Managing Back Pain at Work: The Don'ts

It's also important to avoid certain activities which can make your recovery difficult. In general:

  1. Don't expect to be fully functional immediately. It takes time to heal from spinal surgery — many people aren't fully healed until weeks or months after their procedure. Keep in mind that recovery takes time, and it's important to avoid pushing yourself.
  2. Don't lift heavy items. Lifting too much weight can put serious strain on your spine, causing further injury and prolonging your recovery period.
  3. Don't stay in one place too long. Activity helps prevent your back from becoming too stiff or sore. Be sure to avoid sitting and standing in one place for extended periods of time.
  4. Don't smoke. Research shows that smoking interferes with your body's ability to heal itself. Smoking makes your blood thicker, prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching your tissues and makes infection more likely.

Back surgery recovery can be a long process, but following your doctor's advice and keeping these basic tips in mind can help get you back to work faster. As you heal, keep in mind that your doctor is always available if you experience complications or develop any symptoms that concern you, like numbness or weakness. Following the dos and don'ts of spinal surgery recovery helps keep you as safe as possible while you heal.

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