By Dr. Harlan Bruner, M.D.
Spine surgery can be daunting. But more often than not, patients can walk out of the surgery center or the hospital already feeling relief. And the relief continues to grow, meaning a full recovery and return to work are possible.
The vast majority of patients return to work three months or sooner after spinal surgery through Georgia Neurological Surgery and Comprehensive Spine. Even three-quarters of those who had previous spinal surgery before treatment at GNS returned to work and daily activities within three months. Of course, the length of time off work will depend both on the type of spinal surgery and the type of job the patient has.
Minimally invasive spinal surgery provides patients with a faster and easier recovery than traditional open back surgery. In traditional surgery, the muscles are cut and pulled for the neurosurgeon to access the spine. In minimally invasive surgery, however, neurosurgeons use small portals to access the spine without disturbing the muscles, resulting in smaller scars and a shorter recovery time. Minimally invasive surgery is usually performed as an outpatient procedure, meaning the patient can return home just hours after surgery.
But a successful surgery with the right neurosurgeon does not guarantee a full return to daily activity. It’s the responsibility of each patient to work with the doctor and physical therapist to follow a postoperative treatment plan.
Restricting activity has been shown to do more harm than good, as it causes the back muscles to weaken. Strong, flexible muscles and joints are better at resisting strain and further injury. Studies show the quicker a spinal surgery patient can start the rehabilitation process, the more likely he or she is to return to work than those who do not start rehabilitation soon after surgery.
Just nine days after surgery, Bob Googe of Athens was on a transatlantic flight to India for work. For the next two weeks, he was on his feet providing leadership training. This may sound extreme, but it was possible because of practical advice from his GNS surgeon. Bob participated in his first post-operative physical therapy session three days after surgery. This initial session helped relieve the post-surgery stiffness. After that, Bob was taught the right exercises and stretches he could perform on his own to continue his recovery. Clear guidelines, exercise diagrams, and an increase in mobility helped Bob get back to his life and back to work just a week after surgery.
A return to work and daily activities is the ultimate goal of any spinal treatment plan, but particularly for spinal surgery. A combination of minimally invasive surgery and a clear post-operative rehabilitation plan, along with a commitment from the patient, vastly improves recovery time, helping each patient get on with a full and rewarding life.