Healthy Living

How to Prepare for Spinal Stenosis Surgery

Key Takeaways

  • Spinal stenosis surgery is a major surgical procedure carried out in the spinal column. 
  • Spinal stenosis surgery is performed under general anesthesia. 
  • Psychological as well as physical preparations are necessary before undergoing spinal stenosis surgery. 

A spinal stenosis surgery is a major operation that is carried out to repair defects in the spinal column. Since it is an invasive procedure and a delicate one as well, it is important to be prepared psychologically and physically as they are important aspects to be considered to ensure everything goes well according to the plan. 

Psychological preparation

First of all, the spinal stenosis surgery is performed while the patient is unconscious and under general anaesthesia. Hence no pain will be felt. Nevertheless, it is still important to prepare the patient psychologically so that they can be as comfortable as possible before the operation. It might not have any bearing on the actual procedure, but doctors always want their patients comfortable and confident before the procedure.

Fortunately the surgery is often successful and presents very few risks after the procedure leaving less room for complications. Then there is the issue of whether to explain exactly how the procedure is done. Though some patients prefer to know every detail, others will not. It all comes down to the patient’s personality. However, you are more likely to be told more about the surgery by the surgeon rather than being kept in the dark because studies have shown that this is the better way to move forward.

What the procedure of spinal stenosis surgery involves?

A spinal stenosis surgery involves making an incision along the mid line of the back parallel to the spinal column. Since the spinal cord is situated not very deep inside the body, the incision will not need to be very deep but it has to reach just above the spinal vertebrae. Once the vertebra is exposed, the surgeon will attempt to decompress the nerve that is being pressed by the affected vertebra using various techniques under the guidance of imaging technology like X-ray, MRI and CT scans. Once this is done, the site of the incision is sewn, bandaged and left to heal.

The length of the procedure will vary from 1 to 10 hours depending on the number of vertebrae affected and the method of operation used. After the anaesthesia wears off, the patient should rest for a day or two in the hospital for observation. Afterwards, they can begin walking short distances to speed up the healing process and resume normal activities in around 6 weeks.

There is a lot more that goes into the surgery which your surgeon will be happy to explain, but there are certain personalities who prefer not to know anything. Besides, studies have shown that the anxiety and stress leading up to the surgery prevents clear understanding of the procedure and only about 30% to 50% of patients remember the details. The above explanation has been made very simple just to give the patient an overview of the entire operation. Though this is just the gist of the procedure, consent forms given for you to sign will be more detailed.

Physical preparation

Surgery is usually the final resort to dealing with spinal stenosis since the condition is generally managed through physical therapy. Surgery has to be performed if the symptoms are severe and debilitating. A few weeks prior to the operation, physical therapy will be strongly advised in order to get the body ready. First of all, physical activities contribute to improved psychological preparation assisting the patient further. Other general benefits include improving vascular functioning and bone health. These improvements will be crucial in shortening the recovery period significantly.

To prepare the body further, a proper diet should be maintained for the same reasons as physical therapy. This helps to keep your body healthy ensuring a quick recovery. Some people argue that these measures are more effective if implemented after the operation, but they should be considered as a continuous process which the body will pick up after the operation.

There is also another reason for these measures to be advised – weight loss. An increase in weight can put a lot of pressure on the spine and prevent quick recovery. Therefore, physical therapy and dieting will help prevent any added pressure.

Medication and drugs

Spinal stenosis is usually accompanied by significant pain. Surgery is recommended if the patient is in a lot of pain. Some of the medications may need to be stopped such as narcotic pain medication since the patient may develop a tolerance for the drug. Pain medications are usually necessary after the surgical procedure in order to relieve the pain. The amount and the length of these medications needed vary from one patient to the other based on their tolerance of pain. 

Therefore, the patient should be gradually weaned off from these medications in the weeks leading up to the operation. This might not always be possible if the patient is in excruciating pain, in which case alternative pain medications may be provided.

Other forms of medication that should be avoided include blood thinners like Plavix, high blood pressure medication, diabetes medication and aspirin. If you have been taking any herbal medication, you should also stop taking them since it is not easy to determine the components within them. Various medications may have varying effects on the body during surgery, so it’s always best to be completely honest with your doctor about any medication you may be taking including birth-control pills.

As for the drugs, the biggest deterrent to recovery is cigarette smoking. Cigarette smoking has been shown to cause vascular problems which will have a negative impact in your surgery as well as your entire health. As far as the spine is considered, cigarette smoke may alter disc metabolism which is crucial for normal fusion of the spinal vertebrae after surgery. Due to these reasons, an absolute cessation of smoking is required or strongly advised in order to ensure a normal and quick recovery without complications.

Other preparations

Excessive bleeding is a rare phenomenon among other risks to any type of surgery. This may be caused if there were some other underlying problem that had not been identified. If such a condition is identified before the surgery, you may be asked to donate some of your own blood to be used for transfusion in case of excessive bleeding. This is usually done a few weeks before the procedure and iron supplements will be provided to help build back your blood cells.