woman experiencing relief after back surgery recovery
Health and Wellness

Back Surgery Recovery Time: The Common Questions

Apr 25, 2023

The decision to have back surgery can be a life-changing step. Naturally, it can be a challenging time for anyone. But with close to 313 million surgeries performed globally every year, you are not alone - but it may leave you wondering, “How long is back surgery recovery”?

There are countless questions that may be running through your mind, especially when it comes to recovering from the surgery. Let’s discuss the factors that affect back surgery recovery time, journey through a general recovery timeline for these surgeries, and understand the best ways to heal from them. 

What Factors Affect Back Surgery Recovery Time?

So, how long is recovery from back surgery? 

Regardless of the type of back surgery you just had, your recovery will unfold in gradual phases. With the right support and consistent self-care, it is more than possible to bounce back to your routine faster than ever. 

That said, recovering from surgery is a balancing act between not trying to go too fast and hurting yourself again, alongside re-training your body to function at its optimal capacity. What factors play into the question - “How long is back surgery recovery”?

Everyone will have different levels of pain and take different time periods to heal. The factors that affect back surgery recovery time include:

  • Overall health and fitness
  • Weight
  • Age
  • The type of back surgery you had
  • How serious your back condition is 

Healing after a discectomy, for example, takes anywhere between six to eight weeks. Recovery from fusion surgery takes up to 12 weeks. In some cases, back surgery recovery can even take about a year or more. 

If you had a spinal fusion, you’d take between four to six weeks to bounce back. The recovery in this case, depends on your age, fitness level, and how demanding your job is. Older people would need up to six months to get back to work after extensive surgery. This is because as the body ages, it heals slower than that of a younger person. 

Regardless of how long you take to heal, it’s important to remember you will get there.  Focus on staying consistent with your recovery routine, and never stress yourself out about your healing journey. Your doctor will ultimately guide you through the process and keep you informed based on your specific circumstances.

How Long is Recovery from Back Surgery? A Pre-Op and Post-Operative Timeline

From preparing for your surgery, working with your doctor, and getting back to work – here’s a quick back surgery recovery timeline: 

Pre-Op

  • Six weeks before surgery. It’s important to avoid tobacco and alcohol products. These products can negatively impact the way your body reacts to general anesthesia, which may, in turn, lead to potential complications.
  • Two weeks before surgery. Make sure you stop consuming any medication – such as aspirin or supplements – that might thin your blood.
  • One week before surgery. Drink plenty of water (between half a gallon to one gallon) every day, get plenty of sleep, and include lots of colorful veggies and a variety of lean protein in your diet. 

Post-Op

Although you may want to hop right back into your daily routine post-surgery, it’s important to prioritize your rest first. It is important to remember this when you begin asking yourself subconsciously, “How long is back surgery recovery”?

Within the first 24 hours of surgery completion, you’ll likely feel drowsy due to sedation and anesthesia. Make sure you have someone by your side throughout these hours. Your priority during these first 24 hours would be to rest and relax, eat when hungry, and stay fully hydrated. 

Getting Back in Shape: The Baby Steps

Depending on the surgery you had, you might want to see a physical therapist for the first weeks to ensure a faster back surgery recovery time. Your therapist will help you perform exercises that will prevent injuries and speed up healing. 

Feel free to take walks but remember to start slow, checking with your doctor before starting any new regimen. Continue picking up the pace and walk “a little longer” as you progress, working closely with your physical therapist. 

Marching Back Towards Your Routine

You’ll be surprised by the progress you make with consistent exercise and good nutrition. Make sure you don’t overdo any physical activity just for the sake of hopping quickly back to your routine. Avoid climbing stairs unless your doctor gives you a go. Don’t stand or sit for long periods of time. Avoid intense physical activities, including housework, and don’t lift any weight beyond 5 pounds. 

How to Promote Faster (and Smoother) Recovery from Back Surgery

Basic things such as range of motion exercises, good nutrition, walking, and sleeping well can be monumental to your recovery. Here’s how you can heal faster and more efficiently:

  • Exercising. Perform a range of motion exercises recommended by a therapist who specializes in spine surgery recovery.
  • Walking. Go for regular, short walks to strengthen your circulatory system and help your bloodstream carry essential nutrients and other growth factors to your healing spine and the tissues that surround it.
  • Sleeping. Get plenty of sleep with a minimum of nine hours per night.
  • Solid nutrition. Eat nutrient-rich foods that include a generous amount of bioavailable calcium and protein, such as milk, eggs, cheese, yogurt, quinoa, lentils, walnuts, and black beans.
  • No unhealthy foods. Say no to processed and other unhealthy foods.
  • Mindfulness. Practice meditation to lower your cortisol levels and reduce stress to speed up your recovery.
  •  Hydration. Take your hydration seriously. Remember, even 1% of dehydration can hinder your healing process. 

What Precautions to Take to Minimize Complications With Back Surgery Recovery?

When you’ve only just gone through surgery, it is critical to take care of your body and the way you move. Since your spine is only beginning to heal during these stages, it is critical to avoid any movement that might trigger further complications. 

Regardless of how well-controlled your pain may seem during post-op, it is critical to avoid movements like lifting, bending, or twisting. Lifting more than five pounds can make your spine vulnerable to undue pressure. Instead of bending, you can squat down if you want to reach something. You can even use a reacher if squatting seems difficult. 

Try moving your entire body – while keeping your shoulders and hips aligned – when twisting your torso. Lastly, remember to use your arms to support your body when you move around and perform basic daily activities. For instance, when brushing your teeth, put your hand on the sink for added support. 

Bonus Tip for a Speedy Recovery from Back Surgery: Use a Massage Chair

One of the most challenging healing aspects during post-op is managing the scar tissue. Internal scar tissue can end up restricting your movements because it causes the tendons to stick together. A massage chair helps make muscles around the tissue more flexible, making it easy to move around and manage pain. 

Aside from alleviating back pain, massage chairs also help you unwind and relax. Coping with surgery can be a difficult time, but it’s also the time when you cannot let stress negatively impact your growth. Using a massage chair at your own convenience helps you heal faster, keeps your recovery-related stress at bay, and keeps your body relaxed.  

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