Recovery Info

The best steps for optimising the healing process

Your surgeon will give you a tailored post-operative recovery or exercise plan to help you return to normal activity as soon as possible. Typically, you'll be up and walking in the hospital by the end of the first day after surgery. When you can return to work will depend on how well your body is healing and your type of work.

While there is a lot of information here, we recommend you to read through it and download our Post-Operative Care Guide and General Wellness Plan for future reference during your recovery.

Before you leave hospital

Before you leave the hospital, we will most often get you up, mobilised and provide you with all the information you need about caring for your wound.

In most cases, your surgeon will want you to get out of bed on the first or second day after your surgery. Nurses and physical therapists will help you with this until you feel comfortable enough to get up and move around independently. 

Recovery Instructions
Your doctor and other hospital staff members will also give you extra self-care instructions that you will need to follow for the first 6-8 weeks of your recovery. Following these instructions is essential to your recovery.

Maintaining your Wound Dressing
When you get home, you may still have a surgical dressing on your incision(s). Either a nurse will visit your home to change the dressing, or a caregiver will be taught to do it for you. It's important that the dressing is changed daily and kept dry.

Wound Red-Flags
If you see any signs of infection when changing the dressing, call your doctor. These signs include:

Fever – a body temperature greater than 38°C (101°F)
Drainage from the incision(s)
Opening of the incision(s), and
Redness or warmth around the incision(s)

In addition, call your doctor if you experience chills, nausea or vomiting, or if you suffer any type of trauma (e.g. a fall or car accident). During your recovery, you should not shower until your doctor has said you can.

You should also:

Drink plenty of fluids
Maintain a healthy diet that is high in protein
Walk and do deep-breathing exercises
Gradually increase your physical activity
Avoid any heavy lifting, climbing (including stairs), bending or twisting
Avoid the use of skin lotion around your incision

Post-Operative Care Guide

After surgery, it is crucial to prioritise your recovery by taking the necessary steps and precautions. One of the key factors in this process is to carefully read and follow the recovery guidelines provided to you, along with the General Wellness Plan. Following these guidelines can help ensure a smooth and successful recovery.

Leaving the hospital:

Get help to go home: Make sure you have someone who can take you home – you won't be able to drive for at least 24 hours.

Do not drink or eat anything in the car: Combining anaesthesia, food and car motion can often cause nausea or vomiting. 

Wait until you're hungry before trying to eat: When you arrive home and feel hungry, start with a light meal and avoid greasy food for the first 24 hours.

Take your pain medicine as directed: Start taking pain medication as you start feeling uncomfortable, yet before you are in severe pain. If you wait until the pain is severe, you will have more difficulty controlling it.

Following days and weeks:

Wound Check: Ten days after your operation, you will have a 5-minute appointment with Dr Ferguson to check your wound. 
If you live out of Auckland, please arrange to see your GP to change your dressing. We will also arrange a telehealth consultation with Dr Ferguson.

Stitches: Your stitches are dissolvable and do not need to be removed.

Red Flags: Should you notice a significant change in or around the incision, such as redness, swelling, pus or heat, call or email us immediately.

Driving: You are not permitted to drive for two weeks following surgery.

Medical Certificate: Should you require a medical certificate, you will be issued one on the day of your surgery to cover 8-12 weeks of recovery.

Exercise: It is important to be mobile. Once at home, you should try walking three times a day on flat, stable ground for 12 -20 minutes per walk or 1-2 km per walk.

Rehabilitation: After your wound check appointment, we advise that you begin rehabilitation with your chosen physio. We suggest contacting a local physio before surgery to book your first appointment.

Post-Operative Appointment: 8 weeks after your operation, you will have an appointment with Dr Ferguson. Any fusion or disc replacement patients will require an x-ray.
At this appointment you need to book your 6-month post-op appointment.

Medication: When leaving the hospital, you will receive medication to last until your following wound check appointment. Dr Ferguson will then prescribe medication for you until your 8 week post-op appointment. Following this, you should consult your GP for further medication. Remember, start taking pain medication as you start feeling uncomfortable, yet before you are in severe pain. If you wait until the pain is severe, you will have more difficulty controlling it.

Pain: You will experience pain which will likely feel different from what you experienced pre-surgery. Remember, you have had major surgery, and it takes time to recover.

Setbacks: You may experience minor setbacks at 8 weeks and 12 months. Flares in pain are a normal part of recovery and are a sign your nerves are firing back into action. If at any stage you have concerns, please email or call the clinic. 

Overall: Remember to eat well, stay mobile, and rest when needed - listen to your body.

We encourage you to download our Post-Operative Care Guide, so you have a copy handy during your recovery.

General Wellness Plan

These guidelines will help you recover after surgery. It's important to remember that recovery takes time. Simple activities, like light housework, may take 4 to 6 weeks to get back to. It may take up to a year for your back to completely heal. Remember, you play a critical role in your own recovery process.

Key recovery considerations:

Rock your rehab: It's important to keep rehabilitation appointments, like physiotherapy, at the top of your to-do list. Be sure to complete all the exercises and stretches prescribed to you, and don't just sit back and wait for recovery to happen. You've got to actively pursue it by putting in the necessary effort. Remember, surgery fixes the problem; hard work and commitment achieve the desired outcomes.

Massage therapy/Acupuncture: Massage therapy or acupuncture can significantly aid the healing process. Even if the therapist only focuses on your feet and legs, the benefit will be to your whole body as you relax and release tension.

Pain management: Take your prescribed pain medicines as directed and make sure to call in refills on time so you are not left with gaps in pain management. Don’t take more pain medication than instructed, and call your surgeon if your pain is not well controlled by your prescribed medication. Other non-drug pain relief treatments include moist heat (not directly on an unhealed incision), gentle exercise, massage, short rest periods, and frequent repositioning.

Don’t get too comfortable on the couch: While you need to be careful with your activity during your recovery, you don’t need to stop moving. One of the biggest mistakes people make after back surgery is spending too much time lying down. The longer you stay in bed or on the couch, the weaker and stiffer your body becomes.

Sleep: Rest when you are tired; your body will do most of its healing while you sleep. Consider investing in a comfortable mattress or pillow that provides ample support.

Walking: Before your surgery, discuss with Dr Ferguson about when you can start walking post-surgery. Try to walk every day, gradually increasing the distance each time. Walking can improve blood flow, reduce the risk of pneumonia and constipation, and may lessen muscle soreness.

Plenty of water: Staying hydrated allows nutrients to flow properly, helping with joint and organ maintenance. To figure out how many litres of water to drink each day, multiply your weight by 0.033. For example, if you are 90 kilograms, you should drink about 3 litres of water (90kg x 0.033 = 2.97L).

Nourish your body: Focus on eating a diet of whole, minimally processed foods. These help support your body's natural healing processes. A diet high in protein, antioxidants, and nutrients from whole foods helps reduce inflammation and strengthens your immune system to prevent infections. Some ideas include whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, veggies, chicken breast, and salmon. For more anti-inflammatory meal and snack ideas, online research can provide plenty of recipe inspiration.

Bowel Health: It is common to experience irregular bowel movements after surgery. It is important to avoid straining and consume foods high in fibre, such as pears, berries, broccoli, avocados, bananas, lentils, beans, and artichokes. Women should aim to consume 21 to 25 grams of fibre daily, while men should aim for 30 to 38 grams.

Patience: It's important to remember that everyone's body heals at its own pace. If you're not feeling like your usual self as quickly as you'd like, try to stay encouraged.

Good attitude: Remember that the healing process is a gradual one. Many patients experience emotional downswings following surgery because the activity restrictions and the slow climb to recovery can be disheartening. It can be easy to let those feelings take over, but make a conscious effort to focus on other positive things. Celebrate small victories, like gradually decreasing pain and increasing energy levels. A positive and goal-oriented mindset can significantly help during your recovery.

Breathe: Shallow breathing is known to increase anxiety and pain. Try deep-belly breathing exercises and consciously breathe in for 3 counts and out for 5 counts. This sort of breathwork increases oxygenation, decreases anxiety, and can decrease pain. Consider Aerofit, a Respiratory Muscle Training (RMT) device that helps strengthen lungs and breathing.

Healthy relationships: Many factors might interfere with your desire for sex. Symptoms you had before surgery might not be relieved immediately and can last weeks to months. Returning to sex should be slow and gradual to make it a pleasant experience. Be careful not to bend or twist your back excessively.

We encourage you to download our General Wellness Plan, so you have a copy handy during your recovery.

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