It's you. Are you surprised? Did you think it was the surgeon you choose, or the hospital where your procedure takes place? Of course, those factors are important too. But ultimately, what you do to prepare for and recover from surgery can have a far greater and longer-lasting impact than the procedure itself. If you've traveled down the road of chronic back pain for far too long now, and been told that your condition may require surgery, here's my advice on how to make sure your result is the absolute best it can be.
1. Be sure this is what YOU want. Where any surgical procedure is concerned, you have to go with your gut. After decades of experience, I can tell you that even the most "technically" successful spine surgery a surgeon performs won't be as completely successful if the patient wasn't certain it was her best course of treatment beforehand.
Have you tried other treatment options first? But for the rarest of cases, (like an acute spine trauma caused by a car accident, for example) surgery should not be the first option in addressing your back pain.
Did you obtain a second or third opinion that surgery is the best course of treatment for your back pain? Taking this extra step will help you feel as though you've done your homework. Plus, if each expert you receive an opinion from is generally in agreement on what you're course of treatment should be, you may be more inclined to agree with their assessments too.
2. Choose Wisely. A huge part of being confident with the decision to undergo spine surgery is choosing your surgeon wisely. Is he or she someone you can easily discuss your condition with and ask questions of? If you aren't comfortable with or getting the answers you need from the surgeon(s) you've met with, keep looking. No matter how glossy their marketing materials or how pretty their office, if you don't truly believe this person can successfully address your spine issues, you're probably right.
3. Prepare Yourself. Countless volumes of medical research have shown that those who are most prepared for spine surgery often have the best outcomes – from shorter recovery times to less time spent on post-surgical pain medication.
For those who are overweight, losing even a few pounds before surgery can have a significant impact on reducing the potential for serious complications in the operating room as well as on the overall positive surgery prognosis.
If you smoke, quit NOW. Not only does smoking cause our bones to degenerate rapidly and severely, it can also have a host of terrible consequences and complications during surgery.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, you should also consider getting into some form of exercise routine before surgery. Remember, every little bit of movement you do is going to help you during your spine surgery recovery. Depending on your condition and the level of pain you're experiencing, exercise can even be a few simple stretches while sitting on a chair. The point is to move, even if it's just a little bit.
4. Recover Responsibly. Your spine will not bounce right back into action after surgery. You will need to put in some work to help it out. Though you may be inclined to test the limits of your spine's strength after surgery, don't overdo it. Stick with the exercise plan that your surgeon and physical therapists recommend and rest when your body tells you it needs it. If you have things in your life that absolutely MUST be done, enlist the help of a friend or loved one.
Be sure to also continue taking your prescribed pain medications post-surgery. Altering dosages or going "cold-turkey" altogether can have dire consequences and may actually set healing back considerably. If you think you're ready to ease off of your pain medications, be sure to discuss it with your doctor first.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list of spine surgery dos and don'ts, I hope it provides a few helpful tips on what YOU can do to make sure your procedure and outcome are a success.