Thanks to modern medical advances, many spine ailments and injuries can be medically addressed with minimally invasive surgery. In days past, back or neck surgery of any kind always meant days or even weeks in the hospital, followed by long, painful recovery times. These days, minimally invasive procedures can greatly reduce pain and cut hospital stays and recovery times by half or more, enabling the patient to get on with a normal life sooner.
That being said, surgery is still surgery. If you are a good candidate for a minimally invasive procedure, there are still some things you need to know, things you need to do, and things for which you need to be prepared. The following quick guide will give you some insight on what you should expect before, during and after a typical minimally invasive procedure on your neck or back.
Before the Surgery
Optimally, as soon as you and your doctor determine that surgery is the right choice for you, there are things you can do to begin preparing for a successful procedure. Begin as soon as you get on the doctor’s calendar, or even before. Here are some important ways you can prepare:
- Lose weight. If you are overweight and you have time to drop a few pounds before your procedure, this will relieve pressure on your spine and make recovery easier for you. We’re not talking about a “crash diet” or anything unhealthy — in fact, make sure you clear any diet plan with your surgeon first — but if you can lose some weight gradually in a healthy manner, you’ll be that much ahead of the game when it’s time for the procedure.
- Quit smoking. Not only do smokers take longer to heal after surgery, but smoking has a negative effect on your spine in general, reducing bone density and restricting blood flow. You’ll be asked to refrain from smoking in the days before and after the surgery to reduce the risk of complications during the procedure. However, since the health risks of smoking are well documented, this may be your perfect excuse to quit for good.
- Learn as much as you can about the surgery. Ask your physician more about the procedure itself and what to expect.
- Plan for time off work as needed. Ask your doctor what is appropriate for your procedure.
- Avoid blood thinning medications in the days before the surgery. Your doctor may give you a list of medicines to avoid.
During the Surgery
Many minimally invasive procedures can be done on an outpatient basis, meaning that provided there are no complications, you may return home the same day. As a rule of thumb, most minimal procedures reduce hospital time by 50 percent or more compared to their more invasive counterparts. Here’s a bit more about what you can expect the day of surgery, and how to prepare:
- Follow all pre-surgery instructions as given by your doctor.
- If you’re going under general anesthesia, avoid food for 12 hours prior to the procedure to reduce the risk of complications.
- Arrange for your ride home. Even with outpatient procedures, you will likely be in no condition to drive.
- Expect some pain after the procedure. Your doctor will likely prescribe or administer medicine to manage the pain.
- Be prepared for the unexpected. Even with the reduced risks of minimally invasive surgery, sometimes complications can occur. Have an alternate plan in place for care of your family/pets in case you need to remain in the hospital longer than intended.
After the Surgery
While recovery times can be fairly short for minimally invasive surgeries, it may still be 6 weeks or longer before you’re “yourself” again. Here’s what you need to do in the days and weeks following surgery to facilitate a full recovery:
- Avoid activities that aggravate your injury or incision site. Your doctor will have specific instructions on what you should and shouldn’t do physically during the recovery period.
- Keep the incision site clean and properly bandaged. Watch for signs of infection. If you notice pain, swelling or excessive pus at the site, or if you get a sustained fever, talk to your doctor.
- Take only the prescribed doses of pain medications. If the meds aren’t working, talk to your doctor before changing the dose. It’s better to deal with a little pain than take the risk of becoming dependent.
- Begin exercising under doctor advisement as soon as it is feasible. Being mobile and active will improve blood flow, strengthen muscles, reduce pain and improve recovery time.
- Gradually work back into a normal routine. Don’t be in a hurry to go back to work; give yourself time. Resume activities gradually a little at a time.
If you are suffering from a spine ailment or injury, Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center can help you determine whether you are a good candidate for minimally invasive surgery. For an appointment, call us at 404-256-2633.