As you anticipate your back surgery, don't forget to prepare for the recovery period.
The goal is to create a healing, comforting, and positive environment to ensure the best odds of a successful surgical outcome. These must-haves will also help you maintain your mental and emotional health on your journey to recovery.
- High fiber foods. Post-surgery constipation can cause significant discomfort. Most pain medications, inactivity, anesthesia, and stress can all contribute to constipation. Women should try to get 21 to 25 grams of fiber per day while men should aim for 30 to 38 grams per day. These are examples of foods that have 3-8 grams of fiber per serving:
- Pears and apples with their skins
- Green peas
- Baked potato with skin
- Whole wheat spaghetti
- Air popped popcorn
- Black beans
Drinking lots of water is important too.
- Tylenol. Non-narcotic pain relievers such as acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) do not contribute to constipation as narcotic pain medications do. Ask your physician if/how you can incorporate acetaminophen into your pain control regimen.
- Prescription pain medicine. Most likely your physician will send you home with a prescription for pain medicine. Make sure you know in advance who is going to fill your prescriptions for you once you get home.
- Laxatives. Consider taking non-prescription laxatives prophylactically after surgery. For a full discussion of the different types of laxatives, see Preventing Constipation After Back Surgery.
- Medicine organizer box. You may be on several different medications after your surgery. And you may be foggy. Both are good reasons to organize your current medications into a medicine organizer box before your surgery. Immediately after surgery, ask someone help you add your pain medications or any other prescriptions your surgeon has ordered.
- Trash bags and silk pajamas. These slippery essentials make it easier to slide in and out of bed and the car. Just place the trash bag on the surface of the bed or car so there is no friction as you slide into place.
- Toilet riser. A toilet riser will make it easier to get on and off the toilet. It's a rounded piece of molded plastic that fits securely around the existing seat and increases its height by about 8 inches.
- Cane or walker. The sooner you are moving around the faster you'll feel better. Canes and/or walkers will add the support and security you will need as you take your first steps around your home and neighborhood.
- Shower chair. The heat and steam from a hot shower can make you feel better. Take full advantage of the therapeutic effects by spending extra time in the shower.
- Gripper. Place grippers (also known as reachers or grabbers) strategically around the house so you can always get hold of things that will soon be out of reach.
- Ice packs and heating pads. Heat and ice are a wonderful and simple way to alleviate pain. Spine-health has a health center with tips on how to use heat and cold as you heal: Heat and Ice Therapy Health Center.
- Back scratcher. In the early days after surgery, you may be in too much pain to stretch enough to scratch your back (just not near the wound).
- Back brace. Ask your surgeon if he or she recommends a back brace once you are up and around. The brace can add additional support to your spine and muscles as you become accustomed to moving around freely after surgery.
- Body pillow. Everyone will have a different position they feel most comfortable in after surgery. A body pillow may help comfort you and enable you to find different sleeping or reclining options. When you're in bed, placing a pillow under your knees to keep them slightly elevated will help keep the stress off your lower back.
- Wireless Internet. Keep up with the latest news, celebrity gossip, and friends and family using social media and email with wireless internet. Most of the following suggestions will also require wireless internet.
- Movies. Splurge on a Netflix or Hulu subscription and watch movies on your tablet (using your wireless internet). Or, check out the pay-per-view selections on cable. Movies are a wonderful way to escape and become engrossed in someone else's story—if only for a little while.
- Books and Magazines. Stock up on the books you've been wanting to read at the library. Most likely you can renew the books over the phone or library website, so get as many as you can. For a list of books worth reading consult Goodreads.com. Consider buying an eReader, Kindle, or Nook to have instant access to electronic books.
- Facebook. If you are not on Facebook yet, take this opportunity to set up your account. You can connect with friends and family, and you can subscribe to groups that interest you (like Spine-health at www.facebook.com/SpineHealth).
- Music. Load up your device with all your favorite music. Consider joining Spotify or Pandora for unlimited access to music.
- Game apps for your tablet or smartphone. One of our forum members mentioned that she loved playing Words with Friends because it kept her entertained and connected at the same time. For a list of the best apps for your device see Appolicious.com.
Social and practical support
- Someone to check on you in the early days after surgery. If you live alone, make sure you have people lined up to check in on you. You will need a little contact, and if something is not quite right, your visitor will notice.
- A friend or family member who likes to talk on the phone. Sometimes you just need to hear someone's voice on the other line. Take this time to check in on loved ones you don't get to see or talk to often. Ask them leading questions and lose yourself for a while in their lives: their achievements, news, problems, etc.
- A friend or family member who likes to text. Sometimes you may not be in the mood for a full conversation, but just connecting with someone via texting can make you feel less isolated.
- Company. Once you are feeling a little better, invite friends and family over for short visits. Anticipating their visits can be just as rewarding as the actual time you spend with them.
- Help around the house. Arrange for extra help cleaning the house and taking care of the yard.
- A ride to appointments. Ask a friend to drive you to your follow-up appointments or consider hiring a taxi. This is especially important if you are on pain medications the first few times you go.
- Online sharing. Caringbridge.org is a website that allows you to connect and share news as you recover. The website also helps set up and organize help with rides to appointments, meals, and other tasks you'll need help with.
- Help with your pets. A "doggy door" can be a real lifesaver if you have a fenced-in backyard, allowing your pet to come and go as he or she needs. Otherwise, you'll have to enlist the help of friends, neighbors, or a professional service. If you have a college in the area, consider running an ad for a dog walker. College students can be a more affordable alternative to a professional service.
A general wellness plan
- A good pain doctor. Hopefully the surgery will address the origin of your pain, but if you do still have pain after the initial phase of your healing, know whom to call. Ask around to get a reputable pain physician, and consider making contact with the office before your surgery.
- Sleep. Your body will do most of its healing while you sleep. Ask your surgeon before the surgery what he or she is willing to prescribe for you if you are having trouble sleeping. If you can't sleep at home, follow up with your surgeon and remind him of that conversation.
- Patience. Everyone's body heals at different rates. Don't get frustrated if you feel you are not back to yourself as soon as you want to be.
- Good attitude. Focus on the things that are going well. Even if you don't feel well, try to be grateful for the little things - like all these things on this list. Focus on the hope that this surgery worked and you are well on your way to a healthier life.
- Prayer and meditation. Prayer can be a powerful way to help you cope with your pain, fatigue and sense of helplessness after surgery. Studies have shown that mindful meditation can help patients decrease the brain's sensitivity to chronic pain.
- Massage therapy. Massage therapy can be extremely beneficial to the healing process. Even if the therapist only focuses on your feet and legs, the benefit will be to your whole body as you relax and release tension. Consider finding a licensed massage therapist who will come to your home.
What did I miss? What helped you the most after your back surgery? Post your comments in the Spine-health Forums or on Facebook:
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, 2012