Local anaesthetic is used in the wound to help dampen pain sensations from the cut in the soft tissues. This will be backed up by use of morphine and related drugs to take away the severity of the pain from the surgery. Often, the delivery of these drugs is controlled by the person who has had the surgery by way of a button attached to a pump.
Sitting up is encouraged very soon after surgery because it allows fuller breathing and better oxygenation. Standing and walking are started the day after surgery and may be supervised by the physiotherapist in the first instance.
Stitches and dressings
Buried, absorbable stitches are used in the skin that do not require removal. In the first two days or so, the first dressings will become soaked by fluid from the wound and will be changed. Before discharge from hospital a clear, rubbery dressing will be applied that can stay on for a week or more until the wound heals. Showers may be taken during that time.
Although many people experience early relief from their pain following surgery, some have residual pain that takes weeks to settle. This is due to nerve inflammation as a result of the original compression or the surgery.
First two weeks
Expected levels of pain
The operative site will be sore, but improving.
Leave the dressing that was applied at discharge from hospital intact. It should be removed 10 days after the day of surgery.
It is best to keep active, but gently does it. Walking on level ground without pushing beyond reasonable discomfort is advised. Lying down all the time leads to loss of muscle tone and increased medical complications.
Tablets will be prescribed at the time of discharge and should be taken as directed.
Emotions and tiredness
It is not unusual to feel down after an operation and so allow for this in your plans when you leave hospital. Your spirits will naturally improve with a little time and gentle activity.
Travelling in a car
Being a passenger in a car will not harm your neck or back, but may make them painful. If trips in a car are necessary, then try to make them short or break them up with stops for a walk at least every hour. It is important to sit up properly in the car seat and wear a seat-belt for safety reasons and to avoid breaking the law.
First six weeks
The first milestone in recovery is at about 6 weeks. After this time it is good to increase activity levels in a sensible way and start resuming your usual roles at home and/or work. For those with physically demanding work, resumption of work will take longer. Some people will be able to return to work earlier.
Driving a car
Do not expect to drive any vehicle until 6 weeks after surgery. This is because pain in the neck or back could prevent you from controlling the vehicle safely.
Recovery of function
Full recovery often depends on commitment to regular exercise in order to build up muscle and stamina that was lost due the original condition and then the surgery.
Commonly, the need for spine surgery comes about because of a degenerative problem in the spine, which may have been exacerbated by an injury. This means that your spine as a whole needs to be looked after, even though surgery has relieved painful symptoms. The spine benefits from regular exercise and keeping down to a healthy body weight. The exercise does not need to be strenuous, but should be regular and tailored to your level of fitness and strength. The basic minimum is walking for 30 minutes each day. Swimming is good for the back and some people like to visit a gymnasium. If planning to use a gym, ensure that you use a program that is safe for your back.