Hip, knee and back surgery are common operations, but as well as dealing with surgery there are things you need to consider when you return home from hospital. Here, in the third of a series on recovering from hospital after these procedures is some advice on how best to recuperate after back surgery.
If you need to have back surgery you’re probably thinking about what will happen in hospital when you have your operation. But it’s worth also preparing for will happen when you leave hospital, and what you can do to get on the road to recovery. Generally, try to get back into your regular routine as soon as possible. And you can also use this as an opportunity to make a fresh start, such as eating more healthily by getting five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables per day, and quitting smoking if you smoke. If you have a dressing on the area operated on, follow the instructions your nurse gave you to care for your wound at home.
How to tell if you might have a blood clot
Signs to look out for after your operation include:
- pain or swelling in your leg
- the skin of your leg feeling hot or discoloured
- veins near the surface of your leg appearing larger than normal.
Recovering from back surgery
Surgery for back pain is usually only recommended when all other treatment options have failed, or if your back pain is so severe you are unable to sleep or carry out your daily activities.
The type of surgery suitable for you will depend on the type of back pain you have and its cause. Procedures sometimes carried out include:
- a discectomy – where part of one of the discs between the bones of the spine (the vertebrae) is removed to stop it pressing on nearby nerves (known as a slipped or prolapsed disc)
- spinal fusion – where two or more vertebrae are joined together with a section of bone to stabilise the spine and reduce pain.
These procedures can help reduce pain caused by compressed nerves in your spine, but they are not always successful, and you may still have some back pain afterwards.
When can I go home?
You will usually be well enough to leave hospital about one to four days after surgery, depending on the complexity of the surgery and your level of mobility before the operation.
How will I feel when I get home?
Your body uses a lot of energy to heal, so you will feel more tired than normal. If you feel upset or emotional in the days and weeks after your operation, don’t worry – this is a normal reaction many people experience. Your physiotherapist may recommend starting an exercise programme between four and six weeks after your back surgery. The exercises are designed to help you recover and reduce any back pain you may have. Depending on what type of surgery you have had, your surgeon may advise you not to lift heavy objects, bend, sit still for long periods, or stretch for the first four weeks after surgery. You can also ask your physiotherapist about aids to help you while you are recovering. If you need pain relief, you can take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.
When can I drive?
You may be unable to drive a vehicle. If you have any concerns about what you can and can’t do, speak to your surgeon.
When can I go back to work? You can usually return to work after about eight weeks, but this depends on the type of surgery you have had, and what your job involves.
For further information: visit the NHS Choices website. You can also check if there’s a Get Well Soon leaflet for your particular operation. These leaflets are produced by the Royal College of Surgeons and give detailed information on recovering from various different procedures.