Many people scheduled for back surgery wait months before their operations take place. During that time, there’s a lot you can do to make your recovery easier:
- If your doctor has suggested you lose some extra weight, this is a good time to make changes to your diet and activity levels. If your doctor says it’s okay, and if your symptoms allow, do some exercises aimed at increasing the strength in both your arms and legs.
- If you live alone or are the main care provider for your family, it’s a good idea to prepare and freeze meals to last you at least a week or two following discharge from the hospital. Ask family and friends if they would be willing to provide cooking, laundry and housekeeping support (see How Family and Friends Can Help Before and After Back Surgery).
- If you use tobacco, quit smoking at least six weeks before surgery. Smoking increases the risk of poor bone and wound healing. Some surgeons advise their patients not to have surgery until they have stopped using tobacco because of the higher risk of complications and an ultimately poor outcome among smokers. If you have undergone a spinal fusion procedure, your body needs time to build new bone, so you should not start smoking again for at least a year. (It’s better for your overall health if you never start smoking again).
- Look around your house or apartment and see whether you need to buy or borrow some back-supporting furniture—for example, a straight-backed chair and a firmer mattress—to help during your immediate recovery. If you will be recovering at home after a major spinal procedure, consider whether you need to change your living and sleeping situation—for example, moving a bed down to your home’s ground floor so you can avoid the need to use stairs.
- If you’re having stabilization surgery that involves the use of implants and are also scheduled for a dental procedure, alert your dentist. For certain procedures, your dentist may recommend antibiotics before and after the procedure.
- Ask your surgeon or another member of the surgical Care Team if you need to rent or purchase any assistive devices such as a long-handled reacher which will help you pick up objects without bending down right after your operation.
- Finally, while it’s good to plan ahead, don’t let yourself feel overwhelmed by negative expectations. Fortunately most spine surgery today allows patients to become mobile fairly quickly and to return to near normal function.