Caring for Your Spinal Surgery Incision

All patients undergoing back surgery should actively ensure that the healing process goes as smoothly as possible. In doing so, you can attain the best possible results from the procedure while avoiding complications that could compromise your health. 

Proper incision care is a key step in the process of adopting healthy habits and positive lifestyle choices to promote healing. As an aspect of your spinal surgery recovery, incision care will benefit your overall health. 

Here, we’ll discuss how to care for a spinal incision to ensure a successful surgical recovery and back pain relief. Additionally, we’ll explore innovations in the field of spine surgery that allow for smaller incisions and, as a result, a lower risk of complications. 

How Are Incisions Closed After Spinal Surgery?

After spinal surgery, the incision may be closed with Steri-Strips, staples, or sutures, including dissolvable sutures. Most often, spinal surgeons use a combination of these closure methods.

Since spinal surgery is performed beneath the layers of skin and muscle in the back, the incision must be closed at various layers. Your surgeon will suture the muscle layer together before closing the skin. 

  • Sutures are also commonly referred to as stitches. This wound closure method involves using sterile surgical threads, which are stronger than the threads most people are familiar with. The surgeon uses these threads with a needle to suture the incision closed, and certain types of sutures will dissolve within a few weeks of the procedure. 
  • Staples are metal clips. They allow for fast wound closure but don’t dissolve. So, you’ll need to return to your surgeon to have them removed after the procedure (typically seven to 14 days post-op). 
  • Steri-Strips are adhesive bandages that may be used to help close an incision after spinal surgery. They may be applied over dissolvable stitches to help keep the skin closed or to help the wound heal after the sutures are removed. 

Preparing and Recovering From Back Surgery

In preparing for back surgery, patients should begin on a path of improving their diet and physical activity. These practices will improve your overall health to ensure that the spinal surgery goes off without a hitch. 

With that said, implementing healthy habits is not only essential for the surgery itself but also for the recovery process following the operation. While continuing the positive lifestyle changes that you applied before the procedure, make sure to rigorously follow your doctor’s orders, including those about what medications to avoid. Certain medications can interfere with the healing process, namely including NSAIDs. NSAIDs, like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, are blood thinners and can impair the body’s repair processes.

How Do You Treat an Incision After Back Surgery?

Proper care for the surgical incision is one of the most important aspects of post-operative home recuperation following back surgery. 

Immediately After The Procedure

You won’t be permitted to apply any ointments or lotions to the incision while it’s healing. You also shouldn’t bathe in a tub, swim, or use a hot tub until your incision is healed. Immersing the incision in water before your surgeon clears you to do so may increase your risk of infection and inhibit the healing process. 

Additionally, you’ll need to keep the incision clean after spinal surgery. You can clean the incision site with soap and water, then gently dry it with a clean cloth. This helps prevent infection as the incision heals. 

Two Weeks After The Procedure

In most cases, non-dissolvable sutures and staples are removed 14 days following the spinal surgery. At this point, the incision is usually fully healed. 

Six Weeks After The Procedure

Many spinal surgery patients are eager to reduce scarring by applying scar treatments and vitamin creams to the incision. However, you must wait to get the go-ahead from your surgeon before doing so. Typically, surgeons allow patients to start applying scar creams six weeks after the procedure. 

How Long Does It Take For a Spinal Incision To Heal?

It generally takes about two weeks for a spinal incision, including a spinal stenosis incision, to completely heal. At this point, your surgeon will remove sutures and staples, as well as clear you to take baths and swim. However, this timeline can vary from patient to patient. 

Spinal incision infections typically appear two to four weeks after the procedure. Your surgeon will advise you to be aware of infection symptoms, which include fever, worsening redness at the incision, and changes in the infection drainage. If any of these symptoms occur, make sure to reach out to your surgeon immediately.

Additionally, if the surgeon places any hardware or devices during the procedure and an infection develops, they may need to be removed. This also applies to patients with an implantation spinal cord stimulator incision or spinal fusion incision. 

How Long Does It Take For Spinal Nerves to Heal After Surgery?

Immediately after the spinal nerves are decompressed in surgery, the healing process can begin. But, nerve tissue heals far slower than other types of tissue in the body, namely muscle tissue. So, while some patients will experience an immediate improvement in nerve pain after spinal surgery, other patients may need more time to notice a difference. 

In the weeks and months after spinal surgery, patients should notice a gradual improvement in neurological symptoms such as numbness, tingling, and weakness. By adopting healthy lifestyle habits, such as engaging in low-impact exercise, eating healthily, and refraining from smoking, you can ensure that the spinal nerves heal as quickly as possible. 

Spinal Surgery Advances For Smaller Incisions

Surgeons always aim to create as small an incision as possible while successfully carrying out the procedure. This is because a smaller incision leads to less blood loss, less scarring, and a lower risk of infection. 

Fortunately, the last several years have seen a revolution in back surgery procedures and outcomes. Now, more minimally-invasive procedures are available to patients that require spinal surgery. These procedures allow for much smaller incisions, among other advantages over traditional open back surgery.

Spinal Fusion Alternatives

One procedure that can now be replaced with minimally-invasive alternatives is spinal fusion back surgery. This procedure was traditionally performed in conjunction with spinal decompression surgery for spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, and related conditions. 

Spinal fusion involves positioning an implant containing bone graft material in between the affected vertebrae. Over the course of several weeks after the procedure, the bone graft will trigger the fusing of the vertebrae, turning them into a single bone. As a result, the patient can avoid spinal instability after decompression surgery. 

Unfortunately, spinal fusion requires a long recovery period and eliminates the natural movement of the individual vertebrae. It also creates the risk of adjacent segment disorder, or ASD, which occurs when the vertebrae surrounding the fused segment degenerate more rapidly than they otherwise would. 

The TOPS System From Premia Spine

Thankfully, a spinal fusion alternative has emerged to improve outcomes and preserve patients’ range of motion: the TOPS (Total Posterior Solution) System. The TOPS System is an implant that facilitates a minimally-invasive spinal surgery. It’s been shown in clinical trials around the globe to provide superior outcomes for patients who undergo treatments such as lumbar laminectomy or other spinal decompression procedures for various causes of lower back pain. 

As the example of the TOPS System indicates, these advances in minimally-invasive back surgery allow for not only fewer complications in surgical incision healing, but also improved outcomes overall.

Don’t hesitate to discuss concerns surrounding post-op incision care with your surgeon, and make sure to explore all of your spine surgery options.