Keeping track of your recovery
If your surgery was more extensive and you face a longer course of rehabilitation, you may want to track your recovery. You can keep a diary of your progress and note how you are feeling each day. Record what you are able to do and share this information with your surgeon at follow-up.
Going back to work
Return to work after back surgery depends on the physical demands of your job. If you work outside the home, how soon you can return to your job will depend on many factors; whether your work is physically demanding, how easy it is to get to and from your job and whether your employer is able to provide “transitional” work or work accommodation. You might be able to return and do a different job for a while, or work fewer hours or days until your recovery is complete.
If you’re self-employed or work at home, it may be easier to rearrange your schedule. But don’t expect too much from yourself right away. For the first few months you are still recovering from the stresses of surgery, so pace yourself. Do what is most important and try not to take on too much too soon.
Driving and car travel
Sitting is surprisingly stressful for the back; in fact, the load on the spine is actually greater when you sit then when you stand. For that reason, driving may be quite uncomfortable at first. Your ability to drive without increasing your pain depends on a number of factors. Your surgeon will tell you when it is safe to try. Here are a few guidelines:
- Even if you’ve been given the “OK” to start driving, it’s not a good idea if you don’t feel well or if you are taking prescription medications for pain relief.
- Use a small, low back support to help maintain spinal posture. Avoid traveling in cars with low bucket seats or trying to climb into the back seat of a two-door vehicle. The more you twist your back, the more likely it is that you’ll feel pain.
- If you’re traveling in a van or Sport Utility Vehicle which sits up higher than most cars, you should ask a therapist to instruct you about getting in and out properly.
- A plastic bag placed across the car’s seat helps you slide across more easily.
- If you feel unsteady or it’s the first time you are getting into a car, have someone standing by to help you
- For your first time driving, if you are not confident, consider a test drive with a trusted companion in an empty parking lot.
Leisure and sports activities
If you took part in regular physical activity, such as cycling, jogging or skiing, before your surgery or participated in a sport like golf or hockey you should return to your activities slowly and carefully.
Your surgeon can guide you about what is considered safe based on your overall health and the nature of your back surgery. In general, avoid “high impact/high contact” activities like running, jogging and playing contact sports until cleared by your surgeon to do so. These place heavy and frequent strain on your back and carry a greater risk of producing unnecessary pain. Instead, focus on “low impact/low contact” activities like swimming or walking.
A few words about sex
A satisfying sexual relationship is important, and many people wonder how back surgery might affect this aspect of their lives. The good news is that after surgery, because the pain is gone, some people enjoy a renewed interest in sex. As a general rule, you can safely resume sexual intercourse when you both feel physically and mentally ready—which is often much sooner after the surgery than you might imagine. Be creative and find a comfortable position that works for you and your partner.
Seeing your surgeon for follow-up
It’s likely that you’ll see your surgeon again a week or two after surgery and again a few months later. If you had a simple discotomy or minor decompression and are doing well, that may be the end of the follow-up. Patients who have had stabilization surgery are generally followed for longer. No matter what operation you had, if you’re not doing well, if you take a turn for the worse, or if you have any concerns, see your surgeon.