Important Things to Know About Caring for a Spinal Surgery Incision
Your spinal surgeon has taken many careful steps during your back surgery to help facilitate good healing. When you’re able to go home to continue your recuperation, it’s your turn to take careful steps in your own self-care so that your spinal surgery is followed by an optimal recovery with the avoidance of post-surgery complications.
Proper care of your surgical incisions is one of your most important responsibilities as you heal. Surgeons handle their incision differently so your spinal surgeon and surgical team should provide you with detailed instructions on how best to care for your incision areas. The doctors at The New Jersey Spine Specialists close their incisions as cosmetically as possible and do not use skin staples that can cause a railroad track type of scar along the incision. Here are some of the wound care recommendations provided to patients receiving treatment with The New Jersey Spine Specialists:
• Your surgical incisions will have been closed with dissolvable sutures and then the skin held with steri-strips. The dissolvable sutures will disappear on their own, most often not needing a doctor’s care. The steri strips usually stay in place for two weeks and should be allowed to fall off once they have become loose. Occasionally, a suture knot will become visible along the incision. When this happens, please know that there is no danger. Contact your doctor’s office so that the knot can be cut so that it does not irritate your skin.
• Follow your doctor’s instructions on what you can apply to your incision. At The New Jersey Spine Specialists, we advise our patients to keep the area clean and dry so that the incisions can heal best. Your spinal surgeon will likely warn you against applying any ointments or lotions which can open and irritate the incisions while they are healing. Hold off on applying vitamin or scar-reduction creams until your doctor gives the all-clear which is typically 6 weeks after surgery.
• Follow your doctor’s instructions on avoiding immersion in water. At The New Jersey Spine Specialists, a waterproof bandage is frequently applied so that patients can shower the day after surgery. For larger surgeries, patients are typically advised not to shower for 3-5 days after surgery depending on the magnitude of the procedure. Taking a bath or swimming is not allowed until 3 weeks after surgery. That means no taking a hot bath, or going swimming, or sitting in a hot tub…even if you think those activities would be relaxing and help soothe any pain or soreness until you get the OK from your doctor. Premature immersion in water can be very bad for your healing process and immersion in pools or hot tubs before an incision is ready may even increase your risk of infection. If you love a good bath, or enjoy swimming, ask your doctor when you can return to those activities so that you may resume them at the proper time.
• Avoid movements forbidden by your doctor. Even with minimally-invasive back surgery procedures leaving small incisions, you still have to practice self-care as you heal. This may mean limiting the amount of time you sit or stand during a day and avoid lifting heavy objects. The timing of when driving can be resumed is highly patient and procedure dependent. At a minimum, you must be off narcotic pain killers and have normal reaction times and movement of your arms and legs before getting behind the wheel. This decision must be discussed with your doctor and can occur anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks after surgery. The first week or two after surgery is typically limited to gentle exercise such as walking and other gentler forms of movement rather than sweat-soaking yoga classes or other extreme workouts.
• Follow nutrition and healthy lifestyle rules advised by your doctor. Proper nutrition gives your body the healing power it needs. Avoiding excessive smoking and alcohol during your recovery also boosts your body’s recuperative strength. If it’s on the Do list provided by your doctor, do it. If it’s on a Don’t list, please don’t tempt complications by thinking you can make up for overdoing it by resting more tomorrow. Incisions are more fragile at first, and remain in need of your focused attention and careful care for quite some time after your back surgery.
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Don’t be shy about calling your spine surgeon’s office if you have any questions about caring for your spine surgery incisions. Your doctor would rather have you call with a simply-answered question or a reminder of something you’ve been told previously than risk any damage to your incisions or any other back surgery complications.