You, with the help of your spine surgeon, have made the decision to move forward with spine surgery. At this point, you have discussed your X-rays and MRI, the surgical process, and steps to prepare for spinal surgery.
Is there something you forgot to ask? Make sure you are aware of these five things before you undergo spine surgery.
Recovery may take longer than you expect
Even if you think you understand what this means, you’ll still be surprised at the reality. Most spine surgeries require one to three months of recovery time. Despite what your admirable fighting spirit might tell you while you’re recovering, you’re probably not the exception to that rule. The only way to reduce recovery time is to not rush it. Don’t lift, bend or twist more than recommended by your surgeon. Follow all recommendations about rest, exercise, good nutrition and working (or not working). One of the best ways to prolong recovery is to push yourself too hard and suffer a setback.
Spine surgery may include a bone graft
If your surgery includes spinal fusion, it may be necessary to take bone from another part of your body to create the fusion in your spine. This is called a bone graft. Your surgeon will talk to you about where this bone will come from and that you may experience pain in that area. Bone grafts are very common procedures, especially for spinal fusion surgery; however, this means you will have a second surgical incision, apart from the one on your neck/back.
Spine surgery may leave scar tissue, which can be painful
Following spine surgery, scar tissue may form as you heal. It is a natural reaction whenever body tissue is disturbed (either through trauma or from the surgeon’s scalpel). Sometimes, nerves can be squeezed by scar tissue. Occasionally, bands of scar tissue bind other tissues together (called adhesions). Both conditions can be painful. Make sure you understand that adhesions and residual pain may be present even after spine surgery. Also, discuss all post-operative pain with your surgeon to determine if your residual pain is a normal part of the healing process or if it is not.
Spine surgery recovery is not just physical
Your spine surgeon will advise you about post-operative pain and urge you to precisely following recovery instructions; however, until you’re in the thick of spine surgery recovery, it’s difficult to understand the effect it has on your emotional and mental well-being. Having to rely on someone else for help with so many basic physical activities can be depressing. Many people feel a sense of isolation during recovery from spine surgery. You also might feel grouchy due to post-op pain or the change in routine and even lash out at the people who are caring for you. Most of these feelings are normal and are part of the recovery process. Make sure your caregivers know this ahead of time and make your apologies before surgery. If you are having severe problems with mood or anxiety, discuss these with your spine surgeon or primary care physicians. These changes in mood could require specific treatment.
Avoiding surgery is not always the best choice
Some people would rather live with chronic pain than have corrective surgery. Over time, chronic pain can take a mental and emotional toll on you. Depression and anxiety frequently develop in response to chronic pain. Studies have also shown that people with chronic pain are at a higher risk of developing alcoholism and/or prescription drug addiction, both of which create a wide variety of life-threatening physical health problems. Surgery is usually the last option, but it is still a good and potentially curative option for many people.