NWH Spine Surgery Guide

NWH Spine Surgery Guide
Preparing for your
Spine Surgery
A tool to help patients understand spine surgery
The Orthopaedic
Spine Surgery Service
The Orthopaedic Spine Surgery Service
2014 Washington Street, Suite 423 Newton, MA 02462 617-219-1820
Dear Patient,
On behalf of the spine physicians and the staff at Newton-Wellesley Hospital,
thank you for entrusting us with your care. We are proud of the care we
provide and pleased to offer this Guide so you and your family can fully
understand what to expect when you come to Newton-Wellesley Hospital
for your spine surgery.
Preparing for any type of surgery is an undertaking for patients, as well as
their families. Each patient, as an individual, assumes a very important role in
planning his or her care. The material in this Guide describes the typical routines
and practices associated with having and recovering from spine surgery.
This information and advice comes from the collective experience of
Newton-Wellesley Hospital health care providers, patients and families. In
no way is it intended to substitute for the dialogue you will have with your
surgeon and other involved health care providers. We hope that the material
will help in your conversations with those involved in your care. We encourage
you to carry this Guide and refer to it throughout your experience. You will
also find that it is a convenient place to file other information pertaining to
your care.
We are committed to providing you with an excellent experience. Please let
us know if there is anything else we can do to help achieve this – we welcome
your comments and suggestions.
Thank you again for choosing Newton-Wellesley Hospital and for entrusting
us with your care.
Newton Wellesley Hospital
Orthopaedic Spine Surgery Service
Table of Contents
Section 1: Spine Anatomy and Procedure Overview...................................................2
Section 2: Staff You Will Meet...............................................................................................6
Section 3: Preparing for Surgery..........................................................................................8
Section 4: Anesthesia........................................................................................................... 14
Section 5: Surgery.................................................................................................................. 14
Section 6: Your Hospital Stay............................................................................................. 17
Section 7: Leaving the Hospital........................................................................................ 23
Section 8: Frequently Asked Questions after Back Surgery.................................... 28
Section 1: Spine Anatomy and Procedure Overview
As a patient considering spine surgery, you probably have many questions. This
information will help prepare you for what to expect during your hospitalization.
The spine is made up of a series of vertebra. There are seven cervical (neck),
12 thoracic (chest) and five lumbar vertebrae. The vertebra is composed of a
solid section called the body that
sits anteriorly and a ring of bone
Figure 1: Spine Vertebrae
posteriorly (shown in Figure 1).
This ring of bone creates a canal
through which the spinal column
and nerve roots run.
The bony arch consists of the pedicle,
paired transverse process, facet
joints, lamina and spinous process
(shown in Figure 2).
Between each vertebra is a disc
that serves as a shock absorber and
provides height between two vertebrae. The disc has circular bands of
cartilage called the annulus, which
encases a gelatinous center called
the nucleus (shown in Figure 3).
Figure 2: Superior Articular Process
The disks between the vertebrae
allow the back to flex or bend. Disks
also act as shock absorbers. Disks
in the lumbar spine (low back) are
composed of a thick outer ring of
cartilage (annulus) and an inner
gel-like substance (nucleus). In the
cervical spine (neck), the disks are
similar but smaller in size.
With aging and the wear and tear
we put on our backs, degenerative changes in the spine can occur. The disks
between the vertebrae (bones) may degenerate and lose some of their water
content. The annulus may weaken, allowing the disc to protrude or become
herniated (shown in Figure 4).
The facet joints may develop bony
overgrowth due to arthritis. These
changes can also lead to narrowing,
or stenosis, of the spinal canal.
Spinal stenosis can cause the
nerves to be pinched as they pass
through the canal and foramina
(shown in Figure 5). The nerves
become inflamed, causing pain
in the buttocks and/or legs. These
changes can occur anywhere along
the spine. We frequently see patho­
logies develop in the neck (cervical)
or lower back (lumbar) spine.
Figure 3: Superior Articular Process
Figure 4: Osteoarthritic Facet Joints
As with pain in the lower back,
neck pain is also common. When
pressure is placed on a nerve in the
neck, it causes pain in the muscles
between your neck and shoulder
(trapezius muscles).The pain may
shoot down the arm. The pain may
also cause headaches in the back of
the head. Other symptoms include:
• Weakness in one arm
• T ingling (a “pins-and-needles”
sensation) or numbness in
one arm
• B urning pain in the shoulders,
neck or arm
Figure 5: Lamina
Over time, arthritis of the neck
(cervical spondylosis) may result
from bony spurs and problems
with ligaments and disks. The
spinal canal may narrow (stenosis)
and compress the spinal cord and
nerves to the arms.
Lower Back
What You Can Expect
Low back pain affects four out of five people. The most common symptom of
a herniated disk is sciatica – a sharp, often shooting, pain that extends from
the buttocks down the back of one leg. It is caused by pressure on the spinal
nerve. Other symptoms include:
Surgical time for spinal procedures
can vary depending on the number
of vertebral levels addressed and
the complexity of the case. Hospital
stays vary on an individual basis.
Patients are usually admitted on the
morning of surgery. Routine care
after spine surgery involves wound
care, pain management, physical
therapy and occupational therapy. These are described in greater
detail later in this Guide.
• Weakness in one leg
• Tingling (a “pins-and-needles” sensation) or numbness in one leg or buttock
• Loss of bladder or bowel control
(Significant weakness in both legs could indicate a serious problem and you
should seek immediate attention).
Degenerative changes may also lead to abnormal motion between the vertebrae
(instability). Degenerative changes in the lower back can lead to forward slippage
of one vertebra on another, a painful condition called spondylolisthesis.
When conservative measures fail to relieve pain, your physician may
recommend surgery.
About the Procedures
Figure 6: Laminectomy
A Laminectomy or decompression
of the spine is done to eliminate
pressure on the nerves from bone
or soft tissue (often discs). A portion
of the lamina is removed, this is
often done with a spinal fusion
(shown in Figure 5 and 6).
Spinal fusion surgery permanently
fuses together bone segments
(shown in Figure 7) and eliminates
motion between vertebral segments
using bone graft. Bone graft may
be laid down between the vertebrae
or along the posterior portion of
the vertebrae. In addition, rods,
screws and cages are used to immobilize the spine in the area while the bony
fusion is healing. Spinal fusion will take away some spinal flexibility. However,
most spinal fusions involve only small segments of the spine and therefore, do
not limit very much motion.
Figure 7: Spinal Fusion
Recovering from spine surgery
depends on your general health
before the procedure and your level
of activity. The goal of recovery
is to comfortably return to the activities of daily living that are important to
you. While most spine surgery is successful in relieving pain and/or improving
movement, recovery does take time. Nerve root discomfort may take time to
heal and varies from patient to patient.
The soft tissues at the surgical site will take three to four months to completely
heal, but the majority of the healing happens in the first six weeks. Muscle
strength and reconditioning takes time, depending on how deconditioned
you are preoperatively. Bone healing and fusion consolidation generally
happen between six and twelve months after surgery. Nerves may continue
to heal for one to two years after surgery. Depending upon the problem, most
patients experience back pain improvement compared to preoperative pain
three to six months after surgery.
Kyphoplasty is a minimally invasive treatment for vertebral body compression
fractures caused by osteoporosis and certain cancers. This procedure is usually
performed under local anesthesia.
Section 2: Staff You Will Meet
Care Coordination Team
• Case Manager. This is a nurse who may assist with your discharge planning
Your Health Care Team
It takes many people to make a hospital run smoothly. Your health care team
will work together to make your Hospital stay a positive, comfortable and
successful experience. Please feel free to ask questions and share concerns
with any member of your health care team. The following is a list of some staff
members who will provide your Hospital care:
Attending Physician. This is your surgeon who will be primarily responsible
for your care during your Hospital stay. He will work in conjunction with
fellows, residents, physician assistants (PAs) and nurse practitioners (NPs)
to provide comprehensive care.
• Fellows. Doctors who have completed residency training in orthopaedic
surgery and are specializing in spine surgery.
• Residents. Doctors in their second through fifth year of specialized
training in orthopaedic surgery.
• Physician’s Assistant. A clinician with specialized training who may assist
your surgeon in the Operating Room (OR), during your Hospital stay and
at your follow-up appointment.
• Nurse Practitioner. A nurse with advanced training who may assist your
surgeon in the Operating Room (OR), during your Hospital stay and at
your follow-up appointment.
Anesthesiologist. A medical doctor with advanced training in anesthesiology.
• Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA). A nurse with advanced training who administers
anesthetics under the supervision of an anesthesiologist.
Hospitalist. A medical doctor who may see you at the request of your surgeon.
Nursing Staff. A registered nurse (RN) will care for you throughout your
Hospital stay. Your nurse will make sure you receive the appropriate medications,
medical treatments and tests ordered by your physicians. Your nurse will also
provide information and education to prepare you for discharge. A nurse is
always available to answer questions or to discuss concerns you or your family
may have. The name of the nurse caring for you on each shift will be available
at the nurses’ station or listed on a board in your room.
• Patient Care Assistant (PCA). The patient care assistant will assist your
if you need services and/or equipment upon discharge. The case manager
is familiar with resources in your community and may be able to help
arrange homecare, or if necessary, an appropriate extended-care facility. He
or she can also help with any questions or problems about what services
and/or equipment your medical insurance covers, as well as financial issues
that may impact your recovery and/or access to services/equipment.
• Social Worker. A social worker is always available to discuss any concerns
that you or your family may have related to your disease and the associated
stress it may have on you and your significant others, including what
concerns you may have about planning for discharge. He or she may also
assist with arranging homecare, placement in an extended-care facility,
and/or facilitating equipment needed for home.
Rehabilitation Staff. These staff members have an important role in helping
you recover from your spine surgery.
• Physical Therapist (PT). A PT may work with you during your hospital
stay to get you moving around safely after your surgery. The PT will teach
you how to safely get in and out of bed, walk with or without a device
and walk up/down stairs (if needed). The PT will educate you regarding
your surgeon’s expectations for you upon leaving the hospital.
• Occupational Therapist (OT). The OT will address training you in how to
perform activities of daily living including bathing, dressing, grooming, and
toileting so that you are as safe and independent as possible, either with
the use of adaptive equipment or with compensatory strategies focusing
on body mechanics. The OT will address training with functional mobility
and transfers to assess for any necessary equipment or DME you might
need at your toilet or tub/shower stall area prior to your discharge home.
• Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA). A PTA may assist your physical therapist
in exercises and mobility training. The PTA carries out the goals set by
the PT. While we try to maintain consistency in care having your same
therapist, it may be necessary to have a different therapist or PTA follow
you after your initial evaluation.
Other Hospital Staff. Housekeepers, dietary workers, radiology technicians,
chaplains, pharmacists, transporters and other staff members are all part of
your health care team.
nurse in providing your daily care. He or she may help with bathing,
taking vital signs or transporting you to and from tests.
Section 3: Preparing For Surgery
The nurse will:
£ Confirm your surgical procedure.
onduct a nursing assessment, which includes past medical conditions,
Once you have scheduled your surgery, preparing yourself physically and
mentally are important for a healthy recovery. Here are a few steps to help
you get ready for your surgery.
Surgery Pre-Registration and Pre-Surgical Assessment
Before you come to the Hospital for surgery, you must complete your
pre-registration. Your surgeon’s administrative assistant will help you
coordinate your pre-surgical appointments at Newton-Wellesley Hospital,
as well as any required preoperative clearance or testing.
Insurance Co-Payments
Depending on the type of insurance you have, you may be responsible for
a co-pay for your surgical procedure. The amount will vary depending on
your insurance provider. A Newton-Wellesley Hospital staff member from the
Admitting Department will be contacting you to determine the best way to
take care of your co-payment.
Pre-Admission Visit
Once your surgery has been scheduled, your surgeon’s office will arrange a
pre-admission screening appointment. This visit will be scheduled as many as
four weeks before your surgery. This is a separate appointment from your visit
with your surgeon or PCP. During your appointment, you will meet staff from
the Anesthesia department. The purpose of this visit is to make sure you are
medically optimized for your surgery under general anesthesia. The average
pre-admission visit is about two to three hours long. Please eat before this
visit and take your regular medications.
On the day of your pre-admission visit, be sure to bring the following information:
£ Questions you have about your surgery.
£ A list of your allergies.
list of medications and dosages you take on a regular basis, including
vitamins, herbs and other over-the-counter medications.
£ Results of any recent tests at other hospitals.
£ Names, addresses, phone numbers of all your doctors, including specialists.
£ Any previous problems or reactions to anesthesia.
previous hospitalizations and a complete list of medications including
prescriptions, over-the-counter and any dietary supplements.
£ Confirm any allergies you have to drugs, food or latex.
£ Review arrival time for the day of surgery.
£ Recommend a special soap to wash the area the day before surgery.
You will also have any testing your physician has ordered. This may include lab
tests, an EKG and a chest x-ray.
A member of the Anesthesia Department is available to speak with you
before surgery and let you know if any medications need to be stopped
before surgery (see medication list in this Section).
Informed Consent
Before surgery you will be asked to sign consent forms. You have the right
to understand your health problem and treatment options in words you can
understand. Your doctor should also tell you about the risks and benefits of
each treatment. Please feel free to ask questions.
Preparing Yourself Physically
Here are some tips that will help you focus on a smooth recovery.
• Stay as active as possible.
• It is important to share with staff any pain medication you are currently
taking. This will better allow us to plan for your comfort after surgery.
• C ontinue your normal activity and exercise programs.
• Stop smoking. If you smoke, try to stop or cut back on the number of
cigarettes you smoke every day. Smoking can cause complications with
the anesthesia you receive for your surgery. Smoking also inhibits wound
healing and bone healing. There is a 50% chance your fusion will not heal if
you continue to smoke. Smoking decreases blood flow to healing tissues by
25% and accelerates arthritic changes. People who smoke have more back
and neck pain than non-smokers. Stopping even for a short time can be
helpful. For help, you may contact the Quit Smoking Programs at:
Brigham and Women’s Hospital (617-732-8983)
Planning for Your Return Home
Massachusetts General Hospital (617-726-7443)
It is important to begin planning for your return home before your surgical
procedure. Arrange for transportation home from the Hospital. After surgery,
your surgeon and other members of the health care team will assist in
planning for your discharge. Have family and friends available to assist you
with activities such as wound/dressing care, household tasks, driving, and
picking up prescriptions from the pharmacy.
For further information, contact
1-800-TRY-TO-STOP or visit www.trytostop.org
1-800-QUIT-NOW or visit cdc.gov/tobacco
atch your weight. Your doctor may ask you to lose weight before surgery.
You may want to contact a dietitian for help losing weight or maintaining
a lower weight after surgery. Resources are available by contacting our
Nutrition Department at 617-243-6617.
• D iscuss the need for a routine dental exam prior to surgery with your surgeon.
• If you have a fever, flu symptoms or other medical issues, please contact
your surgeon’s office.
Physical Therapy and/or Occupational Therapy goals to achieve prior to
returning home include:
1. G
etting in and out of bed while the bed is in the flattened position without
the use of a rail, using the logroll technique.
2. B
eing able to come to a standing position with or without the help of an
assistive device such as a walker or cane.
3. B
eing able to walk at least 150 feet with or without the help of an assistive
device such as a walker or cane.
Preparing Yourself Mentally
Having surgery can be stressful. It is important to be an informed patient.
Learn as much as you can about the surgery and discuss realistic expectations
with your surgeon and staff. Share this information with family members and
friends who will be involved in helping you with recovery. Don’t hesitate to
ask for help from others during your recovery. It is important to plan for help
in place during your recovery period.
4. Successful full body bathing and dressing with or without the use of
adaptive equipment and incorporation of good body mechanics.
5. Review of any precautions you may have prior to going home.
6. Being able to negotiate the stairs with or without a rail (if used at home.)
You may or may not require use of a cane to perform.
7. Understanding that your only initial exercise at home may be to walk.
Case Management
If needed, you will meet with a case manager during your hospital stay. At this
time, he or she will discuss options for services after discharge. Many patients
are able to return directly home after hospitalization. Some may qualify for
services from a home-care agency. However, some patients may need additional time in an extended-care facility to achieve their goals. Your eligibility
for care in an extended-care facility and/or home-care services is determined
by a number of factors, including physical need and insurance coverage. Your
insurance company must authorize any services. Your health care team will
work with you to make the decision that is right for you.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding your post-rehabilitation
options, please call the Department of Health Care Quality at 617-243-6695.
8. Successful entry and exit from a tub or shower stall.
9. Ability to sit and stand from a standard toilet or commode.
The Rehabilitation staff will help you plan for any equipment you may need
at home, such as:
• Bedside commode
• Raised toilet seat
• Shower chair/bench
• L ong handled
adaptive equipment
• Hand held shower hose
• Safety bars/hand rails
• Knee immobilizer
• Ankle foot orthosis (AFO)
eck or low back brace
(as recommended by your surgeon)
• Cane
• Rolling walker
This equipment is not always covered by your insurance.
Medication Guidelines
Home Safety Checklist
Seven to 10 days before surgery, you should stop taking aspirin and other
anti-inflammatory agents (Ibuprofen, Motrin, Advil, Aleve) to prevent excessive
bleeding peri-operatively. Other drugs that should also be stopped seven to
10 days before surgery include Plavix, Coumadin or other similar anticoagulation
drugs. A complete list of medications and substances that should be stopped
before surgery is provided in this Section. Anesthesia will review this with you.
The Occupational Therapy Department has compiled the checklist below to
help you prepare your home for your recovery. We encourage you to review
this list with family and friends and make any needed changes BEFORE your
surgery. These recommendations can help you safely manage at home during
your recovery period.
£ Remove all loose rugs and electrical cords from areas where you walk in
your home, as they can easily become caught under canes/walkers.
• Do not take vitamins, fish oil, or other herbal supplements for one week
before surgery.
£ Make sure carpet edges are tacked down to reduce potential falls.
• If aspirin is prescribed, please check with your primary care doctor or
cardio­logist before stopping this. You may take acetaminophen (Tylenol).
£ Be sure all walking areas are free of clutter.
£ You will need a stable chair with a firm back and seat cushion that allows
your knees to be lower than your hips when sitting during the day. Seat
height can be built up with a firm pillow or folded linens. A chair with arms
is recommended.
• You may not be aware of the many medicines that contain aspirin or
acetaminophen. Most medicines that help to relieve the symptoms of
cold or sinus congestion contain aspirin or acetaminophen. Look at the
ingredients on the label to ensure your safety.
£ Also make sure that your bed height is 18 inches or more, in order to keep
your hips above your knees when you sit on the edge. Inexpensive bed
risers can be placed under bed legs.
• Notify your surgeon if you are on Warfarin (Coumadin), Plavix, Xarelto, or
another anticoagulation medication.
The following is a partial list of other over-the-counter products that contain
aspirin or aspirin-like medicine. These may affect bleeding during and after
surgery. If you are taking any of these medicines, check with the Anesthesia
Department about discontinuing use.
A.S.A. and Codeine
Bayer Aspirin
Children’s Aspirin
Four-Way Cold Tabs
Norgesic Products
Pepto Bismol
£ Place needed items in the bathroom, bedroom, kitchen and living areas
within easy reach (not too high, and not too low).
£ Keep a cordless phone or cell phone with you during the day.
£ Place rubber mats or non-slip decals in the tub/shower.
£ If you have equipment, such as a commode or tub seat, take it out before
your surgery to make sure it is in good working order.
£ Consider having grab bars installed in the tub/shower wall and near the
toilet to optimize safety when toileting or bathing. If planning on using
suction cup grab bars, be aware that there are safety concerns and
precautions to consider. Properly installed grab bars are always preferable.
£ A hand-held showerhead can be helpful when sitting on a tub seat to shower.
£ Put nightlights in your bathroom and in the hallway leading from your
bedroom to bathroom.
£ Ensure that stair handrails are securely fastened and extend the full length
of the stairs.
£ Be sure that outdoor walkways, steps and porches are free of rocks, loose
boards and other tripping hazards.
Feel free to contact the Occupational Therapy Department at 617-243-6172 if
you have questions about these recommendations.
Section 4: Anesthesia
What To Take To The Hospital
£ Asthma inhalers and any eye drops
Anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists are responsible for your safety and
comfort during surgery. A member of the Anesthesia Department will be
with you at all times in the Operating Room. Nearly all spine surgeries are
performed under general anesthesia.
General anesthesia involves medications that keep you completely asleep
during surgery. These medications are given intravenously
(IV) and by inhalation. Some of the most common side effects of general
anesthesia include nausea, vomiting and sore throat. You will be given
medication to prevent nausea. The anesthesiologist will describe these risks
to you when you sign a consent form for anesthesia. This consent is separate
from your consent for surgery.
ny non-formulary medications that are not stocked in the hospital pharmacy
(please check with Anesthesia Department or your surgeon’s office)
ersonal toiletries
hort robe and loose pajamas
ersonal toiletries
lat comfortable shoes/sneakers and socks
£ G
lasses for reading (leave contact lenses at home)
entures and case
ell phone or prepaid phone card for long distance calls
mall amount of cash (no more than $20 in case you want to buy newspapers).
ompleted Health Care Proxy form
Section 5: Surgery
Do Not Bring
O P ocketbook, wallet or other valuables including watches, earrings and
Day Before Surgery
other jewelry
On the day before your surgery, make sure to follow these specific instructions:
hower and wash your body thoroughly with soap recommended by
Arriving at the Hospital
ollow the instructions you received at your pre-admission visit about all
Hospital admission usually occurs on the day of your surgery. You will be
asked to arrive at the Hospital one and a half hours before surgery. After
checking in at the Surgical Center
pre-test staff.
your medications.
o not eat solids after midnight including food of any kind, milk or coffee
lightener, orange juice, alcohol, gum, candy and mints.
lear liquids are allowed up to four hours before surgery including water,
black coffee, clear tea, apple juice (no cider) and cranberry juice.
bsolutely nothing by mouth within four hours of surgery.
Registration, you will be taken to the preoperative holding area. Your
belongings will be stored and delivered to your room later in the day.
A nurse in the pre-operative area will coordinate your preparation for
surgery, which includes:
eeting your perioperative team who will assist your surgeon.
Your team may include:
Orthopaedic resident
Physician Assistant (PA)
Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
Nurse Practitioner (NP)
Orthopaedic spine fellow
• C hecking your vital signs (temperature, blood pressure, pulse, respirations
and pain score).
• P lacing an intravenous (IV) tube in your arm so that you can receive fluids,
medications and blood transfusion if necessary.
Your family is welcome to stay with you until it is time to go to the Operating
Room (OR). When you are taken to the OR, your family will be directed to the
family waiting area where they can wait during your surgery.
In the OR, the surgical team will work to ensure your procedure goes smoothly.
They will be continuously watching your heart rate, blood pressure and
breathing. A catheter (small tube) may be placed in your bladder to keep
track of fluids during surgery. Your surgeon will speak with your family when
surgery is completed.
After Surgery – Post Anesthesia Care Unit
After surgery, you will wake up in your bed in the recovery room known as the
Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU). You may not remember much of this part
of your stay. Here are some of the routine activities that will be happening as
you wake up from your surgery.
• Your vital signs will be taken frequently.
• Y ou will have oxygen and cardiac monitoring while you wake up from
the anesthesia.
• Y ou will be wearing TEDS stocking and compression boots to promote
circulation. Compression boots are wraps that are placed on your legs. The
wraps are attached to a machine that automatically inflates and deflates.
• Y ou may have a small drain from your incision that drains extra fluid from
under the skin.
• Y ou may have a catheter (tube) from your bladder.
• T he nurse will check on IV fluids and antibiotics you receive.
• Y ou will be asked to cough and breathe deeply every hour while you are awake.
• Y our nurse will check to make sure you are as comfortable as possible. The
nurse will frequently ask you to rate your pain using a pain scale from zero
to 10, with zero being no pain and 10 being severe pain. Your pain will be
managed in one of several ways:
º Patient controlled analgesia (PCA). A pump that releases pain medication
in small doses through your IV. Your physician will order the amount and
type of medication for you.
º Narcotic pain medication. Medication taken by injection or by mouth.
Section 6: Your Hospital Stay
During your recovery, the focus of your care will be on managing your pain,
caring for your incision and getting you moving again. It is difficult to describe
a typical day in the Hospital because each patient’s care depends on his or her
specific needs. One thing is fairly certain: you will be busy.
Day of Surgery
Vital signs. A nurse or patient care assistant will take your vital signs several
times a day. This may include your temperature, blood pressure, heart rate,
oxygen level and pain levels.
Medications. Your physician will order your medications. If you have any
questions about your medicines, please be sure to ask your nurse.
Managing your pain. Your pain will be managed with either oral or IV
medication the first postoperative night. Almost all patients are on oral pain
medication the day after surgery. Some pain is expected after surgery. The
Hospital staff will make every effort to keep you comfortable. If you ever
feel that your pain is not well controlled, you should tell your nurse as soon
as possible.
• If your pain is being controlled by a PCA (Patient Controlled Analgesia) pump,
you can give yourself a dose of pain medication by pushing the button that
controls the pump. In all cases, the pump is set with individual limits ordered
by your physician to prevent overdose or respiratory depression.
• Pain medication, both narcotic and non-narcotic, can also be taken by
mouth. Keep in mind that it is important to take pain medicine when you are
having pain. This will help you get up and move around in a shorter amount
of time, which aids in your recovery.
Ice. You may receive ice to apply to your surgical site to decrease pain and swelling.
Care of your incision. Your incision will be covered with a bandage (dressing)
for the first few days after surgery. If you have a wound drain, your surgeon
will remove the drain within a few days after surgery.
Foley catheter. If you have a bladder catheter, your nurse will check the
drainage from the catheter (tube.) Foley catheters are most often removed
the day after surgery.
IV (Intravenous catheter). Your nurse will also check on IV fluids and
antibiotics you receive.
Incentive Spirometer (IS). Patients often
take shallow breaths when lying in bed,
or in pain, after surgery. Deep breathing
exercises keep the bases of your lungs open;
this helps to prevent respiratory infection
such as pneumonia. You will be asked to
cough and breathe deeply every hour
while you are awake and use an incentive
spirometer (clear plastic device to assist with
deep breathing, shown at right).
Diet. Your diet will go from liquids to solids as
your stomach settles down in the days after
surgery. Meal service is provided three times daily. You will be given menus to
choose foods that you like. Snacks and beverages are almost always available
at the Nursing Station.
Tests. You may have more tests including lab work or X-rays.
Rounds. Your surgeon is the leader of your health care team. During your
Hospital stay various members of your health care team may visit you.
Rehabilitation. The rehabilitation staff includes the physical and occupational
therapist as well as the physical therapy assistant. Depending on your surgery
and your individual needs, the team of your MD, PA, NP and RN will determine
the appropriate therapy to consult to evaluate you and work on regaining your
mobility. You may only need one service, both PT and OT, or possibly neither.
Discharge planning. Early in your stay, your health care team will work with
you and your family to plan for your needs after leaving the Hospital.
Activity Progression throughout Your Hospital Stay
“When will I be able to get out of bed and start walking?”
Getting out of bed and walking will be one of your main goals after surgery.
These tasks may begin as soon as the day after surgery after your surgical
procedure is complete. It is anticipated that on a daily basis you will be getting
out of bed and walking.
“How difficult will it be for me to get out of bed and start walking?”
That depends on many factors. The most important things to consider: the
complexity of the surgery you have, your level of pain after surgery, and
how mobile you were just prior to surgery. In some cases, you may require a
walking aid like a cane or a walker with wheels on it. Many patients are able
to walk without having to use a walking aid after surgery.
“If I feel pain when I try to get out of bed or walk (especially the first time),
is that a bad thing? Does it mean I have done something wrong?”
Pain after surgery is expected, and it is normal to have pain when trying to
get out of bed and walk. If you have pain when trying to get out of bed and
walk, it DOES NOT mean have done anything wrong. One of the main goals of
the healthcare team that is taking care of you is to make sure your pain is well
controlled and tolerable, especially in anticipation and prior to having you
attempt getting out of bed and walking.
“Who will help me to get out of bed and start walking?”
Many of the members of your healthcare team are responsible for, and participate in, helping you begin to get out of bed and walking. A combination
of nurses, nursing assistants, and in some cases, physical and/or occupational
therapists will help you with this. Many patients, after some initial help, are
able to get themselves out of bed and walking prior to leaving the Hospital.
“Will I need an assistive device to walk when I get home?”
Even if you were walking without an assistive device, it is not uncommon to
begin walking with an assistive device such as a rolling walker immediately
after surgery. Progression to a cane or no device is expected before you leave
the hospital, if applicable (unless you were using an assistive device prior
to surgery).
“How soon will I not require any help to get out of bed and take a walk?”
That depends on many factors as well. Some patients are able to get out of
bed and walk without assist within a few hours after their surgical procedure
is finished. Some patients require assistance to help get out of bed and walk
throughout their Hospital stay. In cases where patients need assistance of
another person to get out of bed and walk throughout their entire Hospital
stay, it may be recommended for that patient (at the time of discharge from
the Hospital) to transition to an extended-care facility before going home.
The goal after surgery is to have you walk several times a day on the floor with
help, as needed. If you are independently walking, you may likely not require
rehabilitation services to evaluate you.
“Is there a situation where it would be recommended that I NOT get out of
bed and take a walk?”
On very rare occasions, your surgeon may want to keep you in bed for a short
time after surgery (24-48 hours) for medical reasons. Outside of that situation,
you will be encouraged to get out of bed and walk every day you are in the
• C ompression boots will be worn to promote circulation and prevent blood
clots. You may also have elastic (TEDS) stockings.
• B lood tests will be done for routine monitoring.
• Y ou will begin taking liquids and solid foods in your diet as tolerated.
Case Management
Your case manager or social worker will meet with you to discuss your
discharge plans, expected length of stay and make referrals to extended
day-care facilities or visiting nurses as needed.
Post-Operative Day Two
• Y ou will continue with incentive spirometer to exercise your lungs.
• P ain medicines will continue, as you need them.
blood thinning (anticoagulant) medication may continue if recommended.
Daily Plan of Care
Everyone progresses at his or her own pace. The activities listed below are a
guideline for what to expect during your Hospital stay.
n orthopaedic resident, PA and/or NP will continue to make rounds daily
• IV fluids and antibiotics may be discontinued.
Post-Operative Day One
ressing bandage will be monitored and changed as needed.
• Continue with incentive spirometer to exercise your lungs.
• Y ou will be given laxatives twice daily as needed. Narcotic pain medication
• C ontinue with oral pain medications or a pain pump (PCA, Patient Controlled
Analgesia) that you control. Most patients are switched from a PCA pump
to oral pain medications within 24 hours after surgery. It is important to
communicate with staff how well your pain is being relieved.
blood thinning (anticoagulant) medication may be used, depending on
recommendation of your surgeon.
• T he nursing staff will assist you with bathing, changing positions in bed,
and ambulating.
• Y our doctor (resident, PA or NP) will remove the drain tube (if applicable)
from your incision and may change the bandage.
n orthopaedic resident, PA and/or NP will make rounds daily.
• Y ou will continue to have an IV access.
dditional blood may be administered if needed.
• Y ou may continue to have a bladder catheter if needed.
and anesthesia will make you constipated, so all patients are on a bowel
regimen postoperatively.
• C ompression boots will be worn to promote circulation and prevent blood
clots .You may also have elastic (TEDS) stockings.
• T he bladder catheter may be removed.
• L ab tests may be done.
• Y our diet will be advanced as tolerated and fluids increased to prevent
• If you have not already done so, encourage a family member or friend to
come to the Hospital to review the discharge planning with a member of
your health care team. Staff will provide a tentative discharge date and time
so you can arrange for transportation home.
Case Management
Case manager or social worker may be in to further discuss discharge plan
rrange for home services if needed.
Section 7: Leaving the Hospital
Post-Operative Day 3
• Y ou will continue with incentive spirometer to exercise your lungs.
blood thinning (anticoagulant) medication may continue if recommended.
n orthopaedic resident, PA and/or NP will continue to make rounds daily
Leaving the Hospital can sometimes be scary because your recovery is not
complete. Some days you will feel that you have made great progress and
other days will be harder.
• P ain medicines will continue, as you need them.
ressing bandage will be monitored and changed as needed.
Daily Guidelines
• L ab tests may be done.
• Y ou will continue with a bowel regimen.
In general, the guidelines below will apply whether you are going directly
home or to an extended-care facility. Your healthcare team will also provide
you with additional instructions, depending on the type of surgery.
• Y our nurse will review your discharge instructions, which includes any
In the first week after leaving the Hospital, please follow these daily guidelines:
medications you will be taking at home, as well as any new prescriptions.
• Y ou will resume your usual diet as tolerated, increasing fluids to prevent
Case Management
A case manager or social worker may be in to confirm your discharge plan and
address any outstanding questions you may have.
• T ake all your medications.
• C ontinue increasing your walking distance.
• Take pain medicine as needed. Set your alarm overnight to remind you to take
scheduled pain medication; this will make morning pain more manageable.
pply ice to surgical area (with a protective barrier, i.e. pillow case) when you
take pain medication, or after increased activity such as walking. Ice for 20-30
minutes at a time. Do not ice more often than every two hours, as this could
increase risk of developing a mild frostbite.
• F ollow instructions for wound care.
rink plenty of liquids and eat healthy foods. If you are diabetic, keep your
blood sugars under tight control.
• Y ou may be advised to take daily doses of iron to build up your blood
because it is common to be somewhat anemic after surgery.
• You will need a bowel regimen to prevent constipation related to pain medications and iron supplementation. (Please refer to Section 8 for
more information.)
Signs and Symptoms to Report
Any of the signals listed below can be of concern. If you experience any of the
following when you go home, call your surgeon.
• T emperature greater than101° for several hours duration
• S igns of infection (redness, swelling, draining wound, increasing pain)
rm, leg or calf tenderness or pain
Outpatient services include:
• C hest pain, shortness of breath, rapid heart beat
• P hysical Therapy: members of the Physical Therapy staff work with you to
• P ersistent nausea and vomiting
• B ruising easily
decrease pain and swelling, and help you regain range of motion, strength,
balance, and mobility. The primary focus is to assist you in recovery from
surgery and regaining functional independence.
ccupational Therapy: the Occupational Therapy staff can help you to better
Intermittent pain in the arms and legs is very common after spine surgery.
Your surgeon will discuss with you which symptoms are concerning and when
to notify their office.
Getting Back to Your Usual Activities
During the first few weeks at home, you can adapt what you learned at the
Hospital to your own setting. You should continue to increase your walking
distance. Staff from a home-care agency, such as a nurse or therapist, may
visit as you make the transition to home. Most people feel very tired when
they leave the Hospital. For this reason, it is best to pace yourself as you return
to your daily routine. If you feel tired, take a short morning or afternoon nap.
As you recover, your energy will increase. You cannot do everything yourself.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help with daily tasks such as grocery shopping, laundry
and housecleaning if needed. Take care of yourself. Try to find ways to be
good to yourself during this time.
Outpatient Rehabilitation Services
Once you return home after surgery, outpatient Physical Therapy or Occupational Therapy will be discussed with your surgeon at follow-up. This is the
setting when formal exercise, strengthening, and flexibility will be addressed.
Should your surgeon recommend outpatient therapy, you may choose to
continue your rehabilitation at Newton-Wellesley’s Outpatient Rehabilitation
Services Department, now located at our new Ambulatory Care Center at
159 Wells Ave in Newton. You can also look up more information on our
website at www.nwh.org/rehab.
Our physical and occupational therapists are experienced in treating patients
with functional limitations following surgery. Many of our therapists have
specialty certifications and more than 15 years of experience in orthopaedic
rehabilitation. They are highly skilled in all areas of postoperative care and
will create your therapy program to best meet your needs. By choosing
Newton-Wellesley Hospital for your outpatient therapy, you ensure a good
continuity of care from the time of your preoperative visits through meeting
your rehabilitation goals.
perform important activities of daily living including self-care, homemaking,
work and leisure. Therapy might include teaching you ways to conserve energy
and use good body mechanics, recommendations for adaptive equipment
and suggestions to improve your ability to safely function at home and in
the community.
An appointment for physical and/or occupation therapy can be scheduled by
calling the Department of Rehabilitation Services at 617-243-6172 Monday
through Friday between 7:00 am and 8:00 pm.
Household Tips from the Occupational Therapy Department
Keep these helpful tips in mind when doing activities around the house. It
is important to share this information with family or friends who might be
assisting you. These tips are in addition to the Home Safety Checklist provided
in Section 3.
General Tips
• If you are using a walker or cane, wear an apron with pockets or a belt pack.
Remember, you will not be able to carry things in your hands while using
these devices.
• If you are using a walker, consider buying a walker bag or basket for use in
transporting items.
• S tore frequently used items between waist and shoulder level. Do not stand
on your tiptoes or bend excessively to reach for things. Use your reacher to
do this whenever possible.
rrange for help with child or pet care.
lways use your assistive device if prescribed when walking. It is not safe to
hold onto furniture, even for a few steps.
round floor bedrooms and bathrooms are ideal, but if your bedroom or
bathroom is upstairs, you will be taught to negotiate stairs.
• S ave a new book or project to tackle once you are home.
se a towel to dry self before exiting the shower or tub, or consider using a
Kitchen Tips
• If possible, move your kitchen table close enough to the counter so you can
easily pass food items back and forth without twisting.
• T o move an item from one part of the counter to the other, simply slide it
along the countertop. If the item is hot, place a potholder underneath it.
terry cloth robe to dry self.
• S it down to complete drying and dressing.
• S tore long-handled equipment in an easy-to-reach location when doing
activities of daily living, especially dressing the lower body.
• If you must set your cane aside temporarily while preparing food at the
counter, make sure it is in a safe place where it will not fall to the floor. You
may rest your hips or stomach against the counter for support.
• F requently used refrigerated items should be within easy reach (between
waist and shoulder level).
If you have any questions about these suggestions once you are home, do
not hesitate to contact the Newton-Wellesley Hospital Occupation Therapy
Department at 617-219-1662. An occupational therapist will be happy to talk
with you.
• K eep your freezer stocked with ready-to-eat foods.
• L ighter weight and single serving items are easier to handle than large containers.
rrange kitchen cabinets so that frequently used items are within easy reach
to avoid excessive bending or reaching.
se only stovetop or counter-level appliances to prepare food. Do not use
low ovens or attempt to load or unload the bottom rack of the dishwasher.
• K eep your trashcan accessible.
Bathroom Tips
• If you are more than five feet tall, you may need a raised toilet seat or commode.
o not use towel bars, soap dish handles, shower curtain rods or toilet paper
dispensers for support with getting out of the shower, or on and off the toilet.
se a tub or shower chair as recommended by your occupational therapist.
• It is important that you are able to reach your soap, shampoo, washcloth and
long-handled sponge in the shower without excessive bending. Consider
the use of a shower caddy for easy reach. Consider using liquid soap in lieu
of a bar of soap to avoid dropping the soap out of reach.
• F or a homemade “soap on a rope,” put a bar of soap in the leg of a pair of
pantyhose. Tie the other end to a tub seat or soap dish.
lways make sure there is no water on the floor when stepping in and out of
the tub or shower. If necessary, seek help to dry the area before attempting
to enter or exit the shower.
• P lace an anti-skid rug outside of the tub or shower stall.
Section 8: Frequently Asked Questions after Back Surgery
What is the recovery time?
Everyone heals from surgery at a different pace. It usually takes about three
months to gradually return to normal function without using any devices;
however, it could take longer.
How long do I need a bandage?
You should use a bandage for about one week until your incision is closed
and there is no fluid oozing from your wound. Starting five days after surgery,
it should be changed daily to a new, dry, sterile gauze until there is no more
drainage. You may continue to wear a bandage to protect the incision from
the irritation of clothing.
How long should I use elastic stockings (TEDS)?
These should be used for the first few weeks in order to help reduce swelling
and improve circulation. You may wear them longer, especially if you find that
your ankles swell without them. You may take them off at night. TEDS can be
hand washed or machine washed, but do not place them in the dryer as they
may likely shrink.
Should I use ice or heat?
Ice should be used for the first several days, particularly if you have a lot of
swelling or discomfort. Ice should also be used after activity (such as walking.)
Once the initial swelling has gone down, you may use ice and/or heat. The
staff will help you with this while you are in the Hospital.
When can I shower (get incision wet)?
You may start showering with the incision covered 48 hours after surgery.
Initially, try to keep the incision dry with a clear plastic dressing or plastic
wrap. If it gets wet, pat it dry. It is usually advised that you wait to shower
with the incision uncovered until the wound is closed and there has been
no drainage for seven days. If no drainage is present at the incision, your
surgeon may agree that you can shower earlier. Stay out of tubs and pools
until you have clearance to do so from your surgeon’s office.
How long will I be on pain medicine?
You may need some form of pain medicine for about two to three months.
At first, you will take a strong medicine, such as a narcotic. Most people are
able to stop narcotics within one month after surgery. You can then change
to an over-the-counter pain medicine such as Tylenol.
What activities can I do after surgery?
You may return to most activities when you feel up to it. You should avoid
high impact activities such as running, downhill skiing, and vigorous raquet
sports such as singles tennis or squash. Please discuss this with your physician
at your follow-up visit.
What exercises should I do?
Walking is the preferred exercise until you see your surgeon at follow-up.
You may be instructed by your physical therapist on appropriate exercises
and given a list to follow. Be sure to talk with your surgeon and your therapists
about when you can begin new activities.
Can I have sex?
For the most part, you can gradually resume sexual activity when you are
When can I drive?
You should not drive until you can manage your pain without narcotics.
When can I return to work?
This depends on the type of work you do. You may return to work after about
one month if your work involves mostly sitting. If your work is more rigorous,
you may require up to three months before you can return to full work. In
some cases, more time may be needed. Check with your surgeon.
When can I travel?
You may travel as soon as you feel comfortable, but avoid long-distance travel
for four to six weeks or until after seeing your surgeon. We advise you to get
up to stretch or walk at least once an hour when taking long trips. This is
important to help prevent blood clots.
Will my spinal implants set off the machines at airport security?
The increasing sensitivity of security detectors at airports and public buildings
may cause your implants to trigger an alert. We recommend you alert airport
security that you have spinal implants. In some situations, security guards may
also move a wand up and down your back to locate your fusion instrumentation.
They may also pad you down on the area that triggers the wand.
How long should I take iron supplements?
Four weeks is usually enough time to build up blood after surgery.
What should I do about constipation after surgery?
It is very common to have constipation after surgery, especially when taking
narcotic pain medication. A simple over-the-counter stool softener (such as
Colace) taken with a laxative (such as Senokot) is the best way to prevent this
problem. Increasing fruits and vegetables in your diet will also help. In some
instances, you may require additional bowel medication (i.e. MiraLAX or Milk
of Magnesia) and a suppository or enema.
Can I drink alcohol?
It can be very dangerous to ingest narcotic pain medication with alcohol.
Alcohol use is not advised until you have stopped your narcotic pain medication
and are walking steadily.
I feel depressed. Is this normal?
It is common to have feelings of depression or trouble sleeping after your
surgery. This may be due to a variety of factors such as difficulty getting
around, discomfort or increased dependency on others. These feelings will
typically fade as you begin to return to your regular activities. If they continue,
consult your primary care doctor.
When do I need to follow up with my surgeon?
Follow- up appointments are usually made at four to six weeks, six months
and yearly. In some cases, there will be a follow-up appointment two weeks
after surgery. Check with your surgeon’s office for specifics.
Wishing You a Healthy Recovery
In the months after your surgery, you will gradually move toward greater
independence in all your activities. Continuing to exercise will help you build
stamina and endurance. You may find it challenging at times. Sometimes you
may need to find a new way to do things. As you recover from your surgery,
try to be active and stay healthy. Keep your weight at a level that is appropriate
for your height and body type. Adding pounds can put extra stress on your
body. As your muscles get stronger, it is important to stick with a regular
exercise program to maintain total body fitness. No one is too old to exercise.
If you have questions on how to keep active and stay healthy, talk to your
primary care physician, surgeon, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, nurse,
physical therapist, occupational therapist or case manager.
We hope this Guide has answered many of your questions about spine
surgery and what to expect after surgery. We believe that the most satisfied
patients are those who are well informed. If you have any other questions,
please do not hesitate to contact your surgeon.
Thank you for entrusting your care to the orthopaedic spine surgeons at
Newton-Wellesley Hospital. Best wishes for success and continued health.
When do my stitches come out?
If your stitches are absorbable, they do not need to be removed. The steri-strips
can be kept in place until they fall off on their own. They will help keep the
skin edges together. If they have not fallen off by three weeks post-op, it is
okay to peel them off. If your stitches are not absorbable, they will need to
be removed after 14 days. Nonabsorbable stitches can be removed by a
visiting nurse, PCP, or your surgeon’s office; instructions may be clarified in
your discharge paperwork.
Recommended Websites
American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons
Spine Health
Pain Management
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