Like most other orthopaedic surgeries, recovery after spinal surgery (neck or back) can be quite simple or extremely challenging. But more so than any other body part, your physical fitness BEFORE surgery can directly determine how well you will recover afterwards. Prior to your surgery, visit a physical therapist and determine what your need to do to help make your post-op recovery go as smooth as possible.
After any surgery, some pain or discomfort is expected. This should be controllable with pain medications, rest and ice. You should contact your surgeon if you have severe or uncontrollable pain. If you are not experiencing much pain and do not want to take pain medication, please talk to your surgeon (his assistant or nurse) prior to stopping as they may have safety instructions or have other non-prescription drug alternatives. If you have unused opioid pain medication, please dispose of properly, most police stations are drop off sites. Saving for a “rainy day” can lead to someone other than you taking it. Opioid abuse is an epidemic and the fastest growing drug taken by middle-schoolers.
The type of surgery will determine how quickly your surgeon wants you to begin PT. Some will begin within 4 or 5 days, while other surgeries may require some longer healing time (and maybe some home-health PT).
When you begin PT, the surgical site is checked to make sure it is healing appropriately. Gentle ROM and flexibility exercises are usually begun early, as is focusing on getting those stubborn core muscles working again. (Depending on how long the back or neck pain has been going on, those core muscles may have packed up and headed to warmer and sunnier climates.) Making sure you have good motion in your shoulders and hips is an easy way to decrease stress on your back and neck, so these are addressed early as well.
As your pain decreases, and your range of motion and strength increase, your PT will progress your functional activities. Whether your goals are simply the resumption of house work and yard work, or returning to normal work related activities or sports, your PT is your partner through this journey.
There are always good days and bad days recovering from surgery, but remember that you are not going it alone. If you have questions as you progress, ask your PT. They have seen many of these surgeries and are experts at handling the ups and downs after spinal surgery.