You've tried various non-invasive approaches for getting rid of your lower back pain and got little relief. Your orthopedic doctor now recommends surgery as the next step. You'll be able to recover at home, but you'll need to be patient and careful. Here is what to expect from the surgery and subsequent recovery.
The Extent of Repair Affects Your Recovery
The surgeon will schedule you for a laminectomy, which is the removal of small pieces of bone from one or more of the vertebrae. When the surgeon is able to see the damaged area directly, they may decide to do a number of other procedures to relieve your pain. The amount of repair they do has a direct relationship on the length of recovery. Some of the procedures include:
- Removal of small bone growths that irritate the nerves that come off of your spinal cord.
- Widening of the opening in one or more vertebrae through which the spinal cord travels.
- Widening of the openings through which the nerves exit the spinal cord.
- Removal of part or all of one or more of the discs that cushion your vertebrae.
- Spinal fusion of one or more vertebrae to give stability to your spine.
- Insertion of rigid or flexible rods to strengthen a spinal fusion.
Each of these procedures will affect the muscles, tendons and nerves surrounding the spine. Your doctor will tailor your recovery to the type and amount of surgery done on your lower back.
Your Initial Days at Home
You'll need to be careful to not put stress on your back for a few days while the bones and soft tissues in your back heal. You'll get instructions as to how to restrict your back movement during this time, such as:
- No bending or twisting at the waist
- No lifting of heavy items
- No bending of your spine when getting out of a chair or bed
If you had a spinal fusion, your doctor may have you wear a back brace for a few weeks while the bone heals and solidifies.
When your doctor is satisfied with the healing in your lower back, they will start you working with a physical therapist. Your lower back muscles will be tight because of inactivity. The first step is to slowly stretch out those muscles to their full length. This returns the flexibility to your back that you need to move naturally.
Your physical therapist will do exercises with you and show you some exercises that you'll do yourself between sessions. Your goal is to follow the exercises precisely as they are shown to you and to not overwork your back. Any attempt to speed up the recovery process can damage your back, even to the point of requiring another surgery.
Once your back muscles have relaxed and regained their flexibility, you'll start doing exercises to strengthen your muscles. The physical therapist will work with you to build up the muscles which wrap around your spine, and the core muscles in your abdomen which support your back. Strong muscles are important to prevent future back injury. While it has now been weeks from your surgery, you are still at risk of overdoing it and injuring your back. Work with the therapist to establish a healthy pace and stick to that.
The length of this phase of recovery depends on the level of activity to which you need to return. For example, a job that requires heavy lifting or playing sports will require additional strength training to build up those back muscles so they can protect your back. Contact a local spine center, like Highlands Neurosurgery, P.C., for more information.