Recovering from spinal surgery is a slow healing process that demands time, energy and resources. Your job as a caregiver is to eliminate stress and provide a supportive and safe space for the recovering individual. Refer to the following guide as you prepare and help your loved one throughout a journey of healthy recovery.
As a caregiver, you’ll manage the entire preoperative and postoperative process. Help the patient navigate every step of the procedure by accompanying your loved one to their appointments. Actively listen and document information including post-surgery expectations, medication instructions and what to avoid for an optimal healing process. Make sure notes are visible and quickly accessible at all times.
Functional, Safe & Healing Environment
Recovering from spinal surgery is a slow healing process that demands time, energy and resources. Your job as a caregiver is to prepare the home to be an accommodating recovery space. Make items in the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom more accessible and move them to convenient locations. For example, storing frequently used items on a countertop prevents bending over, lifting and unsafe reaching. A rehabilitative toilet raiser and a “grabber” are two tools that can help a patient feel independent and more comfortable.
Equip your home with healing medical devices as well. A cervical collar provides support following surgery and can help during strenuous activity when the patient’s almost fully recovered. In addition, include a lumbar corset as part of your caregiving recuperation plan. A lumbar corset assists during healing for the first couple weeks and fits snugly as the patient stands or walks.
Support & Relaxation
A patient will experience pain and frustration after surgery, and your supportive role is to help calm your loved one. Everyday tasks and activities can be challenging for the patient, such as going to the bathroom, showering and dressing. Practice patience. Your relaxed demeanor will help keep your loved one physically, emotionally and mentally relaxed as well. The patient may be anxious to move or lift objects faster than recommended. Make sure he or she doesn’t overdo activity.
Ice & Heat
For the first two weeks of recovery, use ice packs to reduce inflammation. Have the patient lie on his or her back with pillows under the knees, and ice the neck and lower back areas. Do this for about 15 to 20 minutes about three to four times a day. Spine-health.com also recommends using heating pads a couple days after surgery to alleviate discomfort.
Posture & Movement
During the first few postoperative days, help the patient take a few 5 to 10 minute walks, suggests the Laser Spine Institute. Increase activity over the next two weeks by attempting three to four walks per day that are about 15 to 20 minutes each. Ensure he or she changes sitting positions every 20 minutes and periodically transitions among sitting, standing and lying. Make sure the patient avoids repetitive motions, frequently bending over and looking up and down. The patient shouldn’t perform any activity for longer than 30 minutes, and should completely avoid lifting items as well as sexual activity.
Nutrition & Exercise
Keep your patient hydrated by advising they drink 8 oz. of water each day. Eating more vegetables will also help the healing process. Ask the physician for a list of healthy foods to eat as well as ones to avoid. Since narcotics, taken for pain, can cause constipation, fill the diet with fiber-rich foods.
Six weeks post-surgery, it is usually OK to engage in low-impact exercise. Make sure your loved one varies movements according to a cross-training program. For example, move from the elliptical trainer to the exercise bike. Using strenuous exercise and weights under supervision is often recommended for weeks six to eight. Rather than heavy pushing or lifting, use lighter weights and increase repetitions. Visit spine-exercises.com to learn about how postsurgical and alternative exercises can be implemented into the recovery plan. Help your loved one regain strength with exercise videos such as decompression posture, bilateral knee to chest and leg lengthener exercises.