Back Surgery Preparation and Recovery


How do I Know if I Need Back Surgery?

Treatment for back pain generally depends on what kind of pain you experience: acute or chronic. 1

  • Pain that hits you suddenly—after falling from a ladder or lifting a load that is too heavy, for example—is acute pain. Acute pain comes on quickly and often leaves just as quickly. To be classified as acute, pain should last no longer than 6 weeks. Acute pain is the most common type of back pain.
    • Acute back pain usually gets better on its own and without treatment.
  • Chronic pain, on the other hand, may come on either quickly or slowly, and can linger a long time. In general, pain that lasts longer than 3 months is considered chronic. Chronic pain is less common than acute pain.
    • In the vast majority of chronic cases, back pain does not require surgery. Doctors will nearly always try nonsurgical treatments before recommending surgery.

Handout on Health: Back Pain. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

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What Should I Ask My Surgeon Before Surgery?

If your doctor recommends back surgery, it is normal to have many questions about the procedure. Below are some of the questions you may want to discuss with your doctor.

  • What are the risks and potential complications of back surgery?
  • How long will the procedure take?
  • How long will I be in the hospital?
  • When will I be able to resume normal activities?
  • How much pain relief or increased mobility can I expect?
  • What are the clinical results of the spine implant(s) you have chosen?
  • What, in your opinion, makes this the very best available implant for my condition?
  • What type of procedure have you selected?
  • How many of these procedures have you performed?

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How can I Prepare for Back Surgery?

Follow your doctor’s directions when getting ready for your surgery. Here is a list with examples of things to-do before surgery. Your doctor’s directions may be different:

  • Check that the medicine(s) you are taking will still be OK to take after having surgery on your back.
  • Take time before going to the hospital to arrange your life for after surgery:
    • Move anything you use a lot to an easy to reach spot.
    • Arrange to have family or friends around to help you.
  • You will likely to be told not to eat or drink the night before the surgery.
  • Ask your doctor to tell you what to expect from this surgery.

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When Can I Shower After Back Surgery?

You will need to keep your incision dry immediately after surgery. Some doctors allow early showering. Patients normally take baths for 1-2 weeks after surgery. Get direction from your doctor on when it is OK to start showering.

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When Should I Call the Doctor After Surgery?

Ask your doctor to describe how you will feel after surgery. Some pain and discomfort is normal. The problems you had before surgery may not lessen right away. Talk to your doctor about when to call with problems after surgery. If you have any of these problems at any point after surgery, call your doctor.

  • Signs that your cut (incision) may not be healing (infection).
  • The incision is draining. Although, you can expect some wetness.
  • The skin around the incision becomes red, warm, swollen, or increasingly painful.
  • You have a fever.
  • More tingling, numbness, pain, or weakness in the arms, neck, or legs than you had before surgery.

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How Soon Can I Get Back to Normal Activities?

Ask your doctor to describe how you will feel and what you will need to do to recover from back surgery. Back surgery is a major surgery and getting better will take time. How fast you get better depends on your age, your general health, and the reason for the surgery. Your doctor may recommend exercise with the help of a physical therapist. As with any surgery, it is extremely important to follow your doctor’s direction after surgery.

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Will My Back Implant Affect Travel Through U.S. Airport Security?

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recommends that you inform the TSA officer that you have a metal implant in your back.  “If you choose to not be screened through the advanced imaging technology or you alarm the walk-through metal detector, you will undergo a pat-down screening instead.”

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Results are not necessarily typical, indicative, or representative of all recipient patients.  Results will vary due to health, weight, activity and other variables.  Not all patients are candidates for every product or procedure.  Only a medical professional can determine the treatment appropriate for your specific condition.   Appropriate post-operative activities will vary from patient to patient.  Talk to your surgeon about whether surgery is right for you and the risks of the procedure, including the risks of infection, implant wear, loosening, breakage, or failure.  For additional information or to find a surgeon near you visit
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