Preparing for Spinal Surgery

Whether to treat a slipped disc from age-related spinal degeneration or a traumatic spinal cord injury, spinal surgery is never taken lightly. When lower back surgery is selected as the preferred treatment option, it indicates that the condition being treated is severe.

Spine surgery comes along with the expectation that it will provide a meaningful improvement in the targeted medical condition. This improvement generally includes a reduction in the patient’s pain, as well as restored movement.

With these improvements in mind, there’s actually much to look forward to while you prepare for spine surgery! To ensure that the procedure and recovery go as smoothly as possible, consider these tips:

Get in Shape

So, what’s our top tip for how to prepare for spinal surgery? Get in the best shape you can – mentally and physically.

To improve your physical fitness, exercise thoughtfully and eat a healthy diet. Exercising can be difficult when you’re dealing with a spinal condition. However, maintaining muscle strength and flexibility, as well as reaching a healthy weight, will aid in your spinal surgery recovery

Additionally, exercising boosts endorphins, the body’s natural “feel good” chemicals. Endorphins can help you manage stress, pain, and your general mental well-being leading up to spinal surgery.  

Which Exercises Are The Best For Lower Back Pain Surgery?

Certain physical activities are safer and more beneficial for patients with spinal conditions than others. These activities include:

  • Walking
  • Bicycling and stationary cycling
  • Low-impact and water aerobics
  • Swimming
  • Yoga and tai chi
  • Resistance and stretching exercises

We recommend speaking to your physician before starting any new exercise regimen. Your physician can inform you of any exercises to avoid as you prepare for spinal surgery. 

Additionally, as a general rule of thumb, avoid high-impact activities, like running and jogging, while you’re recovering from a spinal condition. High-impact activities can place added stress on the spine and may impede its recovery process. 

How Does Weight Loss Benefit Spinal Surgery Preparation?

Extra weight places stress on the back. In fact, excess weight leads to increased impact on the spine with each step that you take, potentially complicating back surgery recovery.

A 2017 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that intervertebral disc disorder and chronic lower back pain are connected to obese and overweight body status. With this in mind, losing weight can support the outcome of your spinal procedure and recovery.

However, lose weight sensibly! Extreme and unhealthy weight loss can compromise your condition leading up to the surgery. 

Here are our top tips for losing weight healthily:

  • Eat regular meals, and don’t skip breakfast. 
  • Listen to hunger cues. 
  • Use smaller plates and bowls for healthier portion sizes. 
  • Rather than cutting out foods altogether, treat yourself in moderation. 
  • Stay hydrated by sipping on water throughout the day, especially around mealtimes.
  • Add high-fiber foods, such as whole grains, legumes, berries, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, to your diet. 

Quit Smoking

If you smoke, it’s in your best interest to quit before spinal surgery. Smoking is detrimental to the success of spinal surgery, as well as the body’s healing process, even for minimally-invasive spine surgery.

Nicotine constricts the blood vessels. This means that when you smoke, the circulation throughout your body decreases. As a result, all of your cells, including those in your spine, will receive less of the oxygen and nutrients that they need to heal.

Decreased blood flow from smoking can also prevent surgical wounds from closing and increase the risk of infection. The infection risk after spinal surgery is further increased in smokers because smoking hampers the immune system. 

Smokers are also at a higher risk of complications from surgery, including stroke, heart attack, shock, and even death.

Several clinical studies illustrate the risk of smoking for patients with spinal conditions:

  • A 2015 study found that smoking was linked to increased complications and worse outcomes in three out of four of the largest diagnostic groups. These groups included 136,511 patients admitted for spinal disease treatment.
  • A 2017 study found that smoking significantly raises the risk of pseudoarthrosis (spinal fusion failure) in patients undergoing cervical and lumbar fusions. This study also found that smoking increases the risk of other complications including infection, dysphagia, and adjacent-segment pathology. 
  • A 2016 study found that smoking significantly influenced the overall perioperative complication rate. 

What If I Can’t Quit Smoking?

If you don’t quit smoking, you’ll be required to stop approximately four to six weeks before the lower back herniated disc surgery and other spinal procedures. You’ll also need to abstain from smoking for two weeks after the procedure. 

Quitting smoking can be difficult, to say the least. Here are a few tips that may help you quit before spine surgery:

  • Ask for loved ones to support you in the coming weeks. 
  • Consider joining a stop-smoking support group. 
  • Avoid scenarios that put you at a high risk of smoking, such as drinking with friends or being around people who smoke.  

Review Medications

Talk to your doctor about all of the medications that you’re taking long before undergoing spinal surgery. Be very thorough, as even herbal supplements can impact your recovery or interact with other medications prescribed for surgery.

There are a few different types of drugs that you generally must stop taking before surgery. These include:

  • Anticoagulants

Anticoagulants are also known as blood thinners. This type of medication prevents the formation of blood clots. But, before surgery, blood thinners also raise your risk of bleeding. So, it’s crucial to talk to your prescribing physician and surgeon about the right time to stop taking anticoagulants before surgery. 

Common prescription anticoagulants include warfarin, NSAIDs, enoxaparin, ticlopidine, clopidogrel, and dipyridamole. Additionally, there are several over-the-counter and herbal anticoagulants, including aspirin, NSAIDs (like ibuprofen), vitamin E, ginger, garlic, and ginkgo biloba. 

  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)

MAOIs remove specific neurotransmitters from the brain. This category of drugs includes certain antidepressants and anti-Parkinson drugs. Unfortunately, MAOIs also interfere with the medications utilized during anesthesia and should be stopped about a week or two before spinal surgery. 

All MAOIs are prescription medications. Examples include tranylcypromine, phenelzine, rasagiline, and isocarboxazid. 

Get Well Informed

Prepare for lower back surgery by learning as much as you can about the facets of your spinal condition, as well as the available treatments. There are numerous lower back surgery types, especially with recent advances in the medical field. Different types of lower back surgery may offer unique benefits and drawbacks.

One essential aspect of education before lumbar spine surgery is to understand the expected recovery period. Spine surgery recovery can last anywhere from a few months to a year if you undergo lower back fusion surgery. 

Learning about the recovery time for lower back surgery well in advance of your procedure will streamline your healing process. With this knowledge, you can better plan how much help you’ll need around the house, how much time to take off of work, and when you can expect to return to your favorite activities

Learn About Recent Innovations in Spinal Surgery

The last few years have seen dramatic advances in spinal procedures that can provide significantly improved clinical outcomes and shorter recovery periods. The TOPS™ (Total Posterior Solution) System, often used in the treatment of spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, and other back problems involving a pinched nerve, is one such advanced procedure.

TOPS™ is an implant system approved for use as an alternative to lumbar spine fusion surgery after spinal decompression. The TOPS™ System preserves the independent flexion and bending of the individual vertebrae. This is in contrast to fusion surgery of the lower back, which eliminates this independent motion and can contribute to the deterioration of adjacent vertebrae. 

The TOPS™ System has also been shown in clinical studies to provide better short- and long-term outcomes than spinal fusion.

Before undergoing spinal surgery, make sure to learn everything that you can about your condition and surgical options. By thoroughly discussing your treatment plan with your physician and asking any questions that come to mind, you’ll be far better prepared for your back surgery.