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7 DOs and DON’Ts After Spine Surgery

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By Nima Salari, MD

Having surgery is a major step for any patient. Even with the shortest and simplest of surgeries, patients should follow instructions as discussed with their surgeon. This is a time to focus on healing and completing the plan set out with your care provider.

Every patient receives a packet with information about their planned surgery. I highly encourage you to look through the packet as it may answer many questions or raise others. Here is a list of DOs and DON’Ts to consider as you go through your recovery process.

1. Do not try a new diet

The timeframe around expected surgery is not a time to start a new diet or reduce caloric intake. Your body will need the building blocks to heal and restore normal functioning. Every meal should contain a source of protein. The protein source can be animal based or plant based. Try to eat rich, nutritious foods from natural sources. It is okay to supplement with protein shakes. Contact your physician if you are having excess nausea.

2. Do control your blood sugars

Diabetic patients need to pay extra attention to their blood sugar levels in the time around surgery and maintain them in a steady state. Blood sugar levels that are too high can interfere with the healing process and wound healing. The chance of infection rises and more adverse events can occur if the levels get higher. Blood sugar levels too low can also spell trouble.

3. Do not smoke

Smokers will roll their eyes at this. Fact of the matter remains that smoking interferes with the healing process of bone and tissues. This may lead to possible wound infections and more surgery.

4. Do keep a journal of symptoms

The healing process will differ for every patient. Your recovery will depend on the type of surgery you have and the potential for swelling as an example. Many other factors will influence the recovery and the location and type of pain that may evolve over time. The best way to track your progress is to define how and what you feel before and after surgery. This may help identify potential problems as well as provide helpful information when you visit with your surgeon in follow up.

5. Do not do heavy labor

This includes gardening! No matter how well you feel, you may want to delay tackling your “honey-do” list. You want to give yourself and your body the needed time to recover. Discuss with your surgeon what the typical time frame would be for the recommended surgery and what specific body positions or activities to avoid.

6. Do stay active

Patients often ask about the amount of walking they should be doing. The general recommendation is to walk a comfortable distance without overexertion. If you feel exhausted or in pain during or after your walk you overdid it and need to do less the next outing. If your walk felt good, then add in a few more steps the next time out. Listen to your body. You may want to plan the route and take the outside temperatures into account. Upright activity may help reduce the chance of blood clot formation, reduce constipation symptoms, and help increase appetite.

7. Do not be afraid to contact your doctor

I always encourage my patients to call or email me with any questions or concerns that they may have. My medical assistant and physician’s assistant will help at times to answer questions or will make sure to direct them to my attention. You should be able to have open lines of communication. This is a stressful time in your life and that of your family. As a team we can help make sure you are on the best track towards healing and recovering from surgery. No question is too basic, so feel comfortable to put a list of them together.

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