Spinal surgery can be tough on the wallet, hard to manage from a recovery standpoint, and inconvenient and painful. But it doesn’t have to be.
We’re going to walk you through everything you need to know about how to recover from spinal surgery faster, including what will happen during your operation, what type of care you’ll need within the post-op period, and how much it may cost.
When you go under anesthesia for surgery, you’ll fall asleep and wake up eight to 12 hours later. Spinal surgery usually takes about two hours.
Stages of surgery:
1. You’ll be given medications to relax and fall asleep. You may be intubated (with an endotracheal tube) through your mouth or nose to help you breathe while sleeping. An epidural catheter will be inserted into your back. General anesthesia is usually used for lower back surgery, which typically takes a couple of hours. The procedure can take longer if you have several disks that need to be removed and the doctor is replacing them with artificial ones, which must be precisely placed in your spine.
2. Next comes surgery itself, which will take about two hours.
3. As the effect of anesthesia is over, you’ll be given pain relief medication to help you deal with any discomfort while your body returns to normal function. This can vary greatly depending on what’s being done and whether spinal fusion is involved. Lower back surgery is usually done with general anesthesia, and patients generally wake up about 12 hours post-op. Most people can drive home after lower back surgery, though some may be advised to take a taxi.
4. You’ll be moved to the recovery room after your surgery is complete. This will depend heavily on what you have done, but usually, you’ll be allowed to go home between three and five days after the operation for most lower back surgeries or six to ten days for fusion surgeries.
The first 72 hours after surgery are when you’re at the highest risk for complications, including infections and blood clots. During that time, what you eat and how much you can move will be restricted based on medical advice from your surgeon.
You will be in the hospital for at least a week — and up to two weeks — to keep your body well-hydrated after an excruciating surgery.
• drink clear liquids such as milk, juice, broth, or water;
• have clear broth (a thick mixture of chicken or beef stock, water, and salt) with your morning meal;
• have clear chicken broth with your evening meal;
• eat comfort foods like mashed potatoes, rice, or pasta. If you have a higher risk of getting an infection, choose soft foods like eggs or pureed vegetables instead;
• use a colostomy bag (an appliance you wear outside of your abdomen to collect metabolic byproducts) or a special pouch;
• take pain medication as prescribed by your surgeon.
• drink alcohol;
• eat raw or undercooked meat, poultry, fish, or shellfish;
• do exercises that put pressure on an incision, like walking up and down the stairs or doing housework;
• perform household chores that require bending or lifting heavy things, like washing dishes, vacuuming, or doing laundry;
• jog in water (swimming and running are acceptable);
• sit in a hot tub;
• scrub with a washcloth or loofah sponge that has been used by someone else;
• take a warm bath (you can take a cool shower);
• go to the tanning salon;
• travel outside the metropolitan area (this is usually restricted for four weeks post-op, though it can be
longer depending on your situation).
How much will it cost?
The average cost of spinal surgery is about $200-$2000 out of pocket for patients with insurance coverage and between $50,000-$150,000 for patients without insurance coverage.
Most insurance companies cover the majority of the cost, though not all. Medicare Part A covers most surgeries but not the fusion procedures. Private insurance coverage can vary significantly based on your employer and your plan’s policy.
How to recover faster?
If you’d like to be as healthy as possible after surgery — and that’s something your surgeon will likely be rooting for, too — there are some steps you can take to get you there faster.
1. Drink a lot of water.
2. If you can, sleep in a reclining chair to help prevent back muscles from tightening up during the recovery period.
3. Keep moving and exercising your core muscles throughout the day (simple exercises with your hands can
4. Avoid lifting heavy objects or doing strenuous chores for a few weeks after surgery since this could cut into your recovery time by causing back pain and pain from other surgeries that doctors might perform on you later.
5. Don’t leave an incision exposed to the air (cover it with a bandage).
6. If you’re taking pain medications regularly, don’t neglect the doses — this could push your body to develop a tolerance for the medicine. Be sure to tell your doctor if you think the medication isn’t working as well as it should.
4 Tips for recovery after spinal surgery:
1. When going up and down the stairs, take one step at a time and use your arms for balance.
2. Stand up slowly and put all your weight on your toes. Don’t put your entire weight onto one foot or use the same leg
as you move since this could put undue pressure on your back.
3. If the incision bothers you, wear loose-fitting clothing at first to make it easier to move around.
4. Start walking after a few days and gradually add more steps after 14 days post-op.
Spinal surgery is always critical and can be a proper lifesaving procedure. It can keep you from being bedridden or even disabled, freeing you up for the activities that matter most to you. But to get the most out of spinal surgery, you need to be prepared for what you’re getting into. This means educating yourself on all the aspects of spinal surgery to know what kind of procedure you’re getting and what to expect afterward.
At the same time, preparation isn’t enough — you still have to take care of yourself after your surgery is done. That means following doctors’ orders and keeping your body in the best condition possible while it’s healing.