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What Are the Worst Days after Lumbar Back Surgery?


2.19 - What Are the Worst Days after Lumbar Back Surgery (1)-min
Navigating the Toughest Days Following Lumbar Back Surgery

Lumbar back surgery is a major procedure that can relieve chronic lower back pain and improve your quality of life. However, it also comes with some challenges and risks, especially in the first few days and weeks after the surgery. This article will discuss what to expect during the worst days after lumbar back surgery, how to manage your pain and discomfort, and how to prevent complications and speed up your recovery.

What to Expect during the First Days Post-Surgery

The worst days after a lumbar surgical procedure such as a lumbar discectomy are usually the first 24 to 48 hours after the procedure. This is when pain is at its peak, the wound is fresh, and the body is adjusting to the changes in the spine. You may experience:

  • Intense pain and soreness in the lower back, buttocks, and legs – You may also have pain in your chest, abdomen, or shoulders if you had a bone graft taken from these areas.
  • Numbness, tingling, or weakness in the legs or feet – This is normal and temporary as nerves recover from the surgery. However, if you have severe or persistent symptoms, or if you lose control of your bladder or bowels, you should contact your surgeon immediately, as this could indicate nerve damage or infection.
  • Difficulty moving and doing daily activities – You may need to use a walker, cane, or crutches to help you walk. You may also need assistance with bathing, dressing, and toileting. Avoid bending, twisting, or lifting anything heavier than 10 pounds for at least six weeks after the surgery.
  • Swelling, bruising, or bleeding around the incision site – You may have a drain tube attached to your wound to collect excess fluid and blood. Keep your wound clean and dry and follow your surgeon’s instructions on how to change your dressing and care for your drain.
  • Nausea, vomiting, or constipation – These are common side effects of anesthesia and pain medications. Drink plenty of fluids, eat a balanced diet, and take stool softeners or laxatives as prescribed by your doctor.

How to Manage Your Pain 

Pain management is crucial for recovery after lumbar back surgery. You should follow your surgeon’s advice on how to take your pain medications, and do not stop or change your dosage without consulting your doctor. You may be prescribed:

  • Opioids – These are strong painkillers that can reduce pain in the first few days after the surgery. However, they can also cause side effects such as drowsiness, nausea, constipation, and addiction. You should use them sparingly and only as directed by your doctor.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – These are over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen or naproxen that can reduce inflammation and pain. However, they can also cause side effects such as stomach ulcers, bleeding, and kidney problems. You should use them with care and only as directed by your doctor.
  • Muscle relaxants – These are medications that can ease muscle spasms and cramps in your back. However, they can also cause side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, and dry mouth. Use them with caution and only as prescribed by your physician.

In addition to pain medications, you can also use other methods to relieve your pain and discomfort, such as:

  • Ice and heat therapy – You can apply ice packs or cold compresses to your lower back for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, several times a day, to reduce swelling and inflammation. You can also apply heat pads or warm compresses to your lower back for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, several times a day, to relax your muscles and increase blood flow. However, you should avoid applying ice or heat directly to your wound, and wait at least 48 hours after the surgery before using heat therapy.
  • Massage and acupuncture – You can get a gentle massage or acupuncture treatment from a licensed therapist to ease pain and tension in your back. However, you should avoid putting pressure on your wound, and wait at least six weeks after the surgery before getting a massage or acupuncture.
  • Relaxation techniques – You can practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to calm your mind and body and cope with your pain. However, you should avoid any poses or movements that involve bending, twisting, or stretching your spine.

How to Avoid Complications and Hasten Your Recovery 

The best way to prevent complications and speed up your recovery after a lumbar surgical procedure such as spinal stenosis surgery is to follow your surgeon’s instructions and take good care of yourself. You should:

  • Keep your wound clean and dry – Change your dressing and clean your wound as instructed by your surgeon. You should also watch for signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, pus, fever, or increased pain, and contact your surgeon if you notice any of these symptoms.
  • Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol – These can impair the healing process and increase the risk of infection, bleeding, and nerve damage. You should quit smoking and avoid alcohol for at least six weeks after the surgery, or longer if advised by your doctor.
  • Eat healthy foods and drink lots of fluids – Eating a healthy diet and drinking plenty of fluids can help the body heal faster and prevent constipation. Eat foods that are rich in protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, such as lean meats, eggs, beans, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. You should also drink at least eight glasses of water a day, or more if you are taking pain medications or have a fever.
  • Start physical therapy and exercise – These can help you regain your strength, flexibility, and mobility after lumbar back surgery. Start physical therapy as soon as possible, as directed by your surgeon and physical therapist. You should also start walking as soon as you can, and gradually increase your distance and speed. Avoid any activities that involve bending, twisting, or lifting until you are cleared by your surgeon.

Recovery from lumbar back surgery is a multifaceted journey that involves physical, emotional, and mental resilience. Understanding the challenges associated with each phase allows individuals to approach the worst days with a sense of preparedness and optimism. While the road to recovery may be arduous, it is a path toward increased mobility, reduced pain, and an enhanced quality of life.

Lower back pain and leg painare extremely common and can often be relieved with conservative treatments. However, if your back pain is severe and long-lasting, surgery may be discussed and potentially recommended to provide relief. For example, if you have a herniated disc that is not responding to conservative treatment, a discectomy or microdiscectomy may be the best option. Although this is generally a very successful procedure, patients with a large hole in the outer ring of the disc have a significantly higher risk of reherniation following surgery. Often, the surgeon will not know the size of the hole until he or she begins surgery, and having a large hole in the outer ring of the disc more than doubles the risk of needing another operation.A new treatment, Barricaid, is a bone-anchored device that closes this hole, and 95 percent of Barricaid patients did not undergo a reoperation due to reherniation in a 2-year study timeframe. This treatment is done immediately following the discectomy—during the same operation—and does not require any additional incisions or time in the hospital. 

If you have any questions about the Barricaid treatment, ask your doctor or contact us today.

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