De post-operatieve periode
What happens after your operation?
Suppose you’ve decided to undergo surgery. You have gritted your teeth and conquered your fear of general anaesthesia and potential complications. You have surrendered yourself to the care of a surgeon. Afterwards, you’ll wake up a little confused in a comfortable bed in a beautiful room. It’s the morning after, the day following your operation. Now what?
Very slowly you will try and get a feel for your body. Is your leg still hurting? Can you feel your wound? How stiff are you? Slowly, you’ll try to move your body. You’ll wonder whether your expectations weren’t too high. Have your symptoms been relieved yet, or will you have to wait a little longer to experience some relief? This is the beginning of your post-operative life.
Needless to say, I will come and see you at once to report on the surgery and ask you how you are feeling. In addition, I’m proud to be collaborating with a brilliant team that will definitely provide you with excellent support during the post-operative period. All of us understand that you may feel insecure, and we wish to get you up and running again as soon as possible, and to the best of your ability, without forcing anything. You will be pampered by our nurses, who know exactly what to look for in order to get a good understanding of your situation. Obviously, you can ask them any questions you may be pondering, no matter how many of them you may have. Soon afterwards, a physiotherapist will come and see you. Not to start training your back muscles, because you’re nursing a fresh wound in your back, so you’ll have to take it easy for a while. Rather the physiotherapist will come and see you in order to help you start moving. Approximately 2 hours after the operation you will be allowed to carefully sit up. If that goes well, you’ll be allowed to take a brief stroll around your room or in the corridor. You will also be given tips on how to bend over, walk stairs and sit down once you get home, in ways, which will relieve your pain and promote your recovery. Generally, your wound will take 3 weeks to heal, but this depends on factors such as your general condition, your age and whether or not you are suffering any other conditions, such as diabetes or arthrosis.
Three golden rules
These are the three golden rules for your post-operative period, which I’d like to share with you:
- You are allowed to do anything you want;
- You must listen to your body very carefully;
- You must stop what you’re doing when you’re getting too tired or are experiencing too much pain.
Once you feel you’re up to it, you may start walking or cycling near your home. As soon as the wound has healed and the scab has disappeared, you may even start swimming. Whatever you do, remember the rules outlined above. Make sure you don’t make any unnatural movements you wouldn’t normally make. This is not the moment to take up gymnastics or yoga! Depending on what kind of surgery you underwent, your back or neck muscles will have had a considerable blow and will initially require rest in order to make a proper recovery. However, you certainly won’t have to lie on a wooden slab for weeks, as doctors used to recommend back in the old days.
If you are afraid to use your body, you may use the services of a physiotherapist, so that you can learn to move again under supervision. It is vital that you gradually resume working on your condition after your operation. If you are sufficiently confident, you will be able to do so on your own. Two weeks after your operation you will report to your GP, who will inspect the wound and remove the sutures. In addition, I will call you after 2 weeks. If you live in Terschelling or Zeeland, you won’t have to travel all the way to Naarden for that follow-up evaluation. Chances are your back or neck will be improving by that stage. Keep observing the 3 golden rules!
If you are experiencing any problems, you are always welcome to come and see us at Bergman Clinics, even before your 2 weeks are up. If you are experiencing other discomforts that are not directly related to your operation, I recommend consulting your GP first. Please note that your GP is welcome to call me 24/7 to consult me. (And no, I won’t lose any sleep if he does.) Only 10% of the people I have performed surgery on do not experience a clear reduction of their symptoms immediately after the procedure. And generally, those 10% will see a reduction of their symptoms later.
When will you be able to breathe a sigh of relief?
As I mentioned, the great majority of my patients feel a lot better immediately after the operation, as the pain in their legs or arms will be largely gone. Nevertheless, a sciatic nerve or a nerve of your arm may act up again a few days or a week after the operation. Don’t panic if this happens. The pain will generally subside of its own accord. Since the nerve was compressed for a while due to the now-removed disc bulge, it may act up every once in a while after the operation.
In many cases, the radiating pain will be largely gone immediately after the operation, but patients will still experience numbness or tingling in an arm or leg. In the great majority of patients, these symptoms will subside down the track. Be patient – it will pass.
It has been shown that back muscles require 3 to 6 months to regain their full pulling force. Therefore, I strongly recommend that you refrain from heavy work or very intensive physiotherapy to train the muscles in your back. When you will be able to resume work largely depends on the nature of your duties and on the general condition of your body. I advise you to consult your company doctor on this. And once you resume work, it is vital that you keep observing the golden rules!
What can you do to help the recovery process along?
The advice I gave in my other blogs is particularly relevant to the recovery process. Where possible, do not smoke. Smoking damages the entire organism and has a negative effect on your vertebrae and intervertebral discs (see blog No. 1). Have a healthy diet, as this will improve your entire body (see blog No. 2). Sitting on the sofa with a nice glass of wine in your hand, listening to your favourite music or reading a good book, thus allowing yourself to relax, is always a good idea. The better you feel, the more your body will be able to do its best for you.