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What Should I Expect After Back Surgery?

Pain will be present in the first days after back surgery.
Immediately following surgery, pain medication may be given via an IV.
The entire back surgery process can last a year or more.
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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2014
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As many people can attest, back surgery can help alleviate a great deal of pain. Surgery of this type is often used to deal with problems like bulging disks, injuries sustained in an accident, or even a herniated disk. While spinal surgery can ultimately be very helpful, the period immediately after the surgery can be difficult. Here is what to expect as you recover from your surgery.

For the first few days after back surgery of any type, you will be in pain. For some patients, the pain after the surgery is easier to take than the pain they experienced before undergoing the spinal procedure. However, it is important to remember that the pain will not magically disappear after the surgery; your body needs time to recover from the procedure, even if it was minimally invasive. As tissues heal and the swelling and inflammation subside, your pain will also decrease.

While you are still in the hospital, expect to go through some sort of physical therapy. The exact nature of the therapy will depend on the type of back surgery utilized to treat your specific issue. A trained physical therapist will work closely with you and your doctors to make sure that the therapy is productive and does not threaten your recovery in any way. However, be prepared for some soreness and fatigue after each therapy session. This is normal and should not be seen as a sign that something is wrong.

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This post-operative physical therapy is necessary to help you regain strength and reach a point where your doctor feels it is safe for you to continue your recovery at home. Keep in mind that your therapy will not end once you leave the hospital. Along with low impact exercises for use around the house, you will probably engage in one to three sessions with a physical therapist each week. As the therapy progresses, you will find your range of motion increasing, even as the level of pain continues to decrease.

Throughout your stay in the hospital, you will receive medication that helps you deal with the pain. The dosage will be carefully monitored, and probably reduced as your healing progresses. There is a good chance you will also receive a prescription for pain killers or muscle relaxers for use once you are back home. Never take more than the prescribed dosage; if you need more medication to manage your pain, talk with your doctor.

As you continue to recover from the back surgery, keep in mind that certain activities must be avoided. For example, you may be ordered to avoid lifting anything over a certain weight, to not reach for items above shoulder level, and to refrain from excessive walking or engaging in certain sports for a period of time. As you continue to heal and your outpatient physical therapy progresses, your doctor will incrementally allow you to begin engaging in a wider range of activities. Even if you are feeling great, do not allow yourself to do more than your doctor approves; this could cause a setback and possibly lead to a recurrence of your old back problem, or create a new one.

Back surgery puts you on the road to moving past bulging disks and other issues that cause back pain. While the effect is not instantaneous, the weeks that follow the surgery will see the pain beginning to subside. Even if it takes as much as a full year to be completely free of the pain, the time and effort you put into the process will make a huge difference in your quality of life in the long-term.

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