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Staying Healthy, Happy & Comfortable Post Surgery

Published May 16, 2017    

Surgery. Ugh. You've tried everything to alleviate your lumbar herniated disc, lumbar spinal stenosis, sciatica or your specific back and spine pain condition. From prescription pain management and physical therapy to aqua therapy and chiropractors, you name it and chances are you've tried it. You finally receive the news that all other treatment options failed to heal your back problem, and you are officially scheduled for surgery.

You've mentally prepared for this day. Your head tells you that you are ready, but what proactive measures can you take to make post-surgery pain that much less?

Dr. Michael J. Ameres, the lead trauma specialist at Southampton Hospital Emergency in Southampton, New York, explained, “Pain is to be expected after surgery. Medications and proper wound care instructions that are explained to you by the surgeon can reduce the pain.”

These instructions may include:

  • When to take pain medications
  • When and if to change the bandages
  • What to eat
  • What activities you can do
  • When it is safe to take a bath
  • When to call the doctor
  • When to return for a check-up

Pain symptoms should get better after several weeks of proper rest. Recovery after a laminectomy or fusion surgery is longer than other back operations. You may not be able to return to activities initially. It takes at least 3 to 4 months after surgery for your bones to heal and the entire healing process may take at up to one year. Hey, BackerNation knows it's inconvenient, but take the necessary time to heal. Don't rush. Be patient.

You've spoken to your surgeon and asked the necessary questions.

Now what?

Luckily for you, you've stumbled upon the perfect platform to learn what you need after surgery. BackerNation took it to the virtual experts to provide you a comprehensive list of everything needed for your post-operation recovery. Thank you to Microsurgical Spine Center for providing us with this must have 'menu'.

Here it is.

First Things First, Food.

You want to stock your kitchen with high fiber foods. Several pain medications, lack of movement, anesthesia, and stress may cause constipation. Women should try to get 21 to 25 grams of fiber per day while men should aim for 30 to 38 grams per day. Post-surgery constipation can cause significant discomfort.

Here are examples of foods that have 3-8 grams of fiber per serving:

  • Raspberries
  • Blueberries
  • Pears and apples with their skins
  • Prunes
  • Broccoli
  • Green peas
  • Baked potato with skin
  • Corn
  • Whole wheat spaghetti
  • Oatmeal
  • Air-popped popcorn
  • Black beans
  • Lentils

If your favorite foods didn't make the list, try these. Fun dietary suggestions include:

  • Dark chocolate and ice cream release endorphins that make you happy, so you can still enjoy your favorite treats in moderation.
  • Healthy whole foods and vitamins help heal your affected area more efficiently. By eliminating junk foods as best as you can, (not including dark chocolate and ice cream) you are already one step ahead. Consult with your surgeon to find out the specific vitamins you should take before and after the surgery in an effort to promote healing. (Calcium and vitamin D foster bone growth after a spinal fusion.)
  • Remember drinking eight cups of water is equally as important. Add a splash of lemon or lime juice to liven it up. To make it even easier, consider buying an actual water bottle. You will be able to stay hydrated longer without having to get up often to refill a smaller cup.

Conveniences that Prevent Inconveniences

After you purchase the necessary food and refreshments, it may be worth it to think about special accessories. Equipment to consider:

  • Ice packs may aid in reducing swelling and any physical discomfort that can follow surgery. Ask your surgeon the best way to apply ice in order to get the most relief leading to a speedy recovery.
  • Consider adding moisturizer and lip balm to your nightstand. Dry air can make your skin turn dry and itchy. A nice, gentle massage of the feet and legs with moisturizing cream can promote circulation and healing.
  • Trash bags and silk pajamas make it easier to slide in and out of your bed, couch, and car. Simply place the trash bag on the surface of the bed, couch or car and let your body slide over.
  • A toilet riser will make getting on and off the toilet much easier. It's a rounded piece of molded plastic that fits securely around the existing seat and increases its height by about eight inches.
  • Canes and/or walkers will add in supporting you as you take your first steps around the house and neighborhood. The sooner you are moving around, the faster you'll feel better.
  • Shower chairs and a long-handled shower brush will allow you to take full advantage of the therapeutic effects that showers provide. You will be able to spend extra time comfortably while hitting those hard to reach places that you may not be able to get too in your post-surgical weakened state. The heat and steam from a hot shower may allow you to feel that much stronger.
  • Place grippers (also known as reachers or grabbers) strategically around the house so you can always grab things that will soon be out of reach. A grabbing tool can be especially handy as your mobility may be restricted making certain bending or stretching movements a challenge.
  • A body pillow may help comfort you and enable you to find different sleeping or reclining options. When you're in bed, placing a pillow under your knees to keep them slightly elevated will help keep the stress off your lower back.
  • Since your back will be stiff following surgery, a back scratcher can aid in reaching itchy spots elsewhere on your back or even your lower legs. Take great care to avoid your incision site.
  • Consult with your surgeon to see if he or she recommends a back brace once you are able to move around. The brace may add additional support to your spine and muscles as you become accustomed to moving around freely after surgery.

Now you have the food and equipment portion checked off...

Beating Back Boredom

You're probably wondering how you will entertain yourself after surgery. Here are a few enjoyable outlets you can do in the comfort of your recovery zone:

  • Movies and television provide a wonderful way to become engrossed in someone else's story, at least for the duration of the series. It will also occupy your time while you rest and recover. Stock up on your favorites to have them ready to go when you tune out for a little bit.
  • Books and magazines are another great resource to keep you busy and your mind engaged.
  • Music has been proven to make you feel uplifted, content, and can actually improve your health, too. Start jamming out on your preferred musical device right away. No prescription needed. 
  • Playing a game on your smartphone or a board game, alone or with a group, keeps you entertained and engaged.

You are fed, stocked up on necessary equipment and entertained, how about support?

Feeling that human connection and simply knowing you have someone there for you is just as important as anything else. Depression and sadness may be a part of your recovery as you struggle to heal. That's completely normal and okay.

Ways a Support System Can Help Post Surgery:

  • If you live alone, make sure you have someone in mind to check in on you. Once you are feeling a little better, invite friends and family over for short visits. Anticipating their visits can be just as rewarding as the actual time you spend with them. Link to: Caregivers: Post Surgery - How to Pick the Best One for You
  • Ask a friend or family member to drive you to your follow-up appointments. This is especially important if you are on prescription pain medications. Even though you may not be able to drive, you can still have a fun music session with the driver.
  • Text or email with a friend or family member. Sometimes you may not be in the mood for a full loaded conversation, but just connecting with someone via text may help in feeling less isolated.

It's All About Attitude

Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure. All patients heal at varying paces. Do not get frustrated with yourself if you feel you are not recovering as rapidly as you want too. Here are some ways you can help yourself post surgery:

  • Sleep. Ironically, your body heals during sleep. If you are having trouble sleeping, it may be worth it to ask your doctor what medications he or she may be able to provide in order to get a good night's rest.
  • Studies have shown that mindful meditation can help patients decrease the brain's sensitivity to chronic pain.
  • Massage therapy can be extremely beneficial to your healing process. Even if the therapist only focuses on your feet and legs, the benefit will be to your whole body as you relax and release tension. Consider finding a licensed massage therapist who will come directly to your home.
  • Join an online or real life support group, like BackerNation. Talking to fellow back pain sufferers may allow you to also feel less isolated while learning from their stories. 
  • When in doubt, do not hesitate to contact your medical professional.

Although it is extremely rare, there are risk factors for any operation that may result in deadly complications. However, thanks to modern medicine, this risk is now less than 1 in 10,000. We hope this puts any anxieties of yours at ease

Last change: January 31, 2019