Most cases of back pain can be treated with physical therapy, pain medication, a back brace, or other alternative treatments like exercise, yoga, and superficial heat. However, if your pain continues or worsens, or if it limits your daily functions, spine surgery may be a viable option.
One reason you might need surgery is because of a slipped or herniated disk. Disks are the rubbery cushions that separate the bones of your spine. If one of these disks presses too tightly on a nerve, it can affect how it functions. Other reasons for spine surgery may be an overgrowth of bone caused by osteoarthritis or to permanently fuse together two or more vertebrae — the bones that form the spine — to provide more stability or relieve pain.
If your doctor recommends surgery, you'll want to know how to prepare. Here are seven things you should know.
1. Prepare Your Home in Advance
Before you have your surgery, it's helpful to prepare your home in advance so things are more convenient for you while you recover. This includes moving furniture, so you have more room to get around if you need to use crutches, or moving items from high or low areas so you don't have to bend or stretch to reach them. You may also want to ask a relative or friend to stay with you while you recover.
2. You May Have to Stop Taking Medication
Certain medications can affect the results of your spine surgery. Ibuprofen and aspirin, for example, can thin your blood, which can increase the risk of problems during the surgery. Your surgeon may ask you stop taking medication up to a week before the surgery.
3. Spine Surgery Can Be Open or Minimally Invasive
Spinal surgery is typically performed as an open surgery, which means the surgery site is opened with a long incision so the surgeon can see and access the entire spinal column.
Minimally invasive spinal surgery does not involve a long incision and typically has less blood loss, a lower infection rate, and less patient pain.
4. You May Be Awake for the Surgery
There are two types of anesthesia that are used for back surgery. One is general, which means you will be asleep for the entire surgery. The other is local, which means you'll be awake but will have no feeling from the waist down. The surgery will typically last for one to three hours, depending on why the surgery is being performed.
5. Pain Is Normal
Pain after spinal surgery is normal and typically not a cause for concern. Talk to your surgeon before the surgery to learn more about what level of pain you can expect after the surgery and how to control it.
6. You Must Keep Your Spine Properly Aligned
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, you will be instructed on how to keep your spine in proper alignment while walking, sitting, and standing. You will be taught how to turn using the "log rolling" technique, which involves turning your entire body as one unit to avoid twisting the spine.
7. You Can Get a Second Opinion
If your surgeon has recommended spinal surgery, it is OK to ask if you can get a second opinion. It doesn't mean that you don't agree; it just means that you want to weigh your options. Your surgeon may recommend open surgery, while another may think minimally invasive surgery is the best option with a shorter recovery time. Consider the pros and cons of each approach before you make your decision.
The thought of spine surgery can be scary, but these tips will help you feel prepared, reduce your risks, and have a better recovery.