Surgery: Back & Neck Surgery

  • July 30, 2021
back bend

Need back surgery?

If you’ve been told that you need back surgery, try physical therapy first. Physical therapy may eliminate the need for surgery if you respond well to treatment! Many conditions that cause pain can be treated without surgery altogether. Surgery often does not help with pain symptoms when it comes to back pain;  research suggests that 20 to 40 percent of back surgeries are unsuccessful. 

If you have already tried physical therapy and other conservative treatments for conditions such as herniated or ruptured discs, spinal stenosis, Spondylolisthesis, fractures, or degenerative disc disease, and your doctor recommends surgery as the best course of action, keep on reading. 

Need neck surgery?

There are three reasons neck surgery is typically recommended:

  • Decompress a nerve root by removing a damaged disc.
  • Decompress the spinal cord.
  • Stabilize the cervical spine.

Depending on the cause of your neck pain, it is always worth it to try physical therapy and exhaust all other conservative treatments before going through neck surgery. If you have already tried conservative treatments for your neck pain and your doctor recommends surgery, be sure to keep on reading. We will be covering the best way to prepare for neck surgery and what to expect after surgery. 

Some questions you might be having:

There are so many questions that are probably going through your head. Will the surgery help alleviate your pain? Will you still have back or neck pain? How will the recovery process be? Having all of those questions is entirely normal! At Forward Motion Physical Therapy, we want to help quell any fears and answer any questions you might have about your upcoming back or neck surgery.

Preparing for the Surgery:

  1. Stop smoking. If you smoke, stop smoking for 4-6 weeks leading up to your surgery to increase oxygen levels, reduce the risk of blood clots, reduce your risk of infection, and help speed up the healing process. It is easier said than done. Quitting smoking before surgery can help speed up recovery times and is highly recommended. Talk to your doctor to get some tips and help with quitting smoking if you need some support!
  2. Eat healthily! Start eating a healthier and more nutritious diet. Eating a more plant-based diet, getting more fiber, and eating more protein are great ways to speed up recovery times after surgery. Plus, we could all benefit from eating healthier!
  3. Exercise more. Getting in shape before your surgery is the best way to make for a quick and easier recovery! Ask your physical therapist about which exercises you should be doing before your surgery. For example, if you have spinal fusion surgery, you will need a walker, a few weeks. It is advisable to learn how to use a walker or a cane before surgery. Strengthen your upper body to help prepare for life after surgery during those crucial weeks post-op. If you are overweight, your doctor may also recommend losing some weight before the surgery so that less stress is put on your body post-surgery. Losing weight will also make sure you are healthy enough for surgery. Exercising before surgery also reduces your risk of getting blood clots. Get moving! At Forward Motion Physical Therapy, we can help you prepare for surgery and help you post-op by creating a personalized plan of care customized to your needs.
  4. Recovery plan! Make your meals in advance and freeze them so that you don’t have to worry about cooking. You can also prepare your home for ways that will make getting around easier. If there is a rug you’re constantly tripping on or a couch that you always bump into, move them temporarily to minimize your risk of hurting yourself when you are healing. Buy things that will help make life easier for you as you recover– a grip for the shower, a shower chair, a grabbing tool, ice packs, or anything you could think of that would help you. 
  5. Ask for help. In the days after surgery, you will need help doing everyday activities like walking the dog, doing the laundry, driving, etc. Ask friends and family for help doing these things because you should rest and heal instead of doing chores. Plus, who doesn’t like being pampered from time to time? If you don’t want your friends and family to see you while recovering, hire a home health aid to help you.

What to Expect After Surgery:

From the moment you wake up from surgery, the beginning of your recovery journey has begun. Here’s what you should expect in the next few weeks post-op.

  1. If you sit or lay in bed too long after surgery, you will start to get stiff, causing the pain to worsen. Talk to your physical therapist and surgeon. Your surgeon and physical therapist should have given you at-home exercises you should start doing after surgery. Don’t skip any at-home exercises! It is easy to forget to do these exercises or put them off, but at-home exercises will help increase your mobility and decrease pain. You may also benefit from receiving home care physical therapy. As Dr. Hanna Vazquez says, “Motion is lotion!” 
  2. Do expect to see swelling. Swelling is typical and an expected part of the recovery process. Remember to take any prescribed medications before the pain becomes too much to bear. Be sure to apply ice to the area for 20 minutes 3-4 times throughout the day to help minimize swelling and relieve pain. It is also essential to keep your surgical site clean. Depending on where you had your surgery, it may not be easy to clean the surgical area, so be sure to follow the instructions your doctor gave you thoroughly.
  3. Start outpatient physical therapy as soon as you get the okay from your doctor. Doing the right exercises/treatments while in recovery will help your back or neck heal faster and prevent blood clots from forming. Physical therapy will also help prevent scar tissue from building up, improve flexibility, mobility, balance, and strength.
  4. Learn how to use a walker/cane. Ensure to see a physical therapist and learn how to use a walker/cane if you are not accustomed to it already; this is especially useful for walking up and downstairs. It might seem simple enough; however, there can be a learning curve involved in adapting to life using a walker or cane. 
  5. Move. Expect to start walking and moving as soon as you awaken from your surgery. Walk 2-3 times a day. Something as simple as a gentle walk to your mailbox to get the mail would help prevent you from getting stiff and prevent your pain from increasing. 
  6. Take it easy. Please do not lift heavy objects, be mindful of your form. If you have had back surgery, do not twist your spine until you get the okay from your doctor. Be sure to turn your entire body instead of twisting your neck or back when you want to face a different direction. Talk to your physical therapist regarding how you should adjust your movements to minimize the risk of injury. 
  7. Being cautious to avoid injury makes sense, but when you start feeling better, it is easy to forget that you are still in recovery and could slow down your recovery if you are not careful! Be sure to follow all care tips that your doctor and physical therapist tell you to follow until you get the okay to resume regular activities.
We’re here to help!

If you are experiencing back or neck pain and aren’t sure why or if physical therapy is for you, come in for a complimentary 30-minute physical therapy session to see if physical therapy is right for you. Call us at 973-799-3314 to schedule your appointment today. You may be amazed by the results! Our physical therapists will tell you if they think you are a candidate for surgery during your evaluation.

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