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Returning to Work After Back Surgery

If you’re getting ready to have spine surgery or are considering your options, you’re probably wondering what the recovery will be like. One of the most common questions we get from patients is when they can return back to work after back surgery. There is no one-size-fits-all answer here because there are so many variables involved including specific conditions, surgical procedures, and the physical condition of the individual patient.

There are, however, some guidelines to follow. Below, we are breaking down the recovery process after spinal surgery and answering the question of whether you can get back to work immediately—or how long you’ll have to wait after your surgical procedure.

 

Going Back to Work Faster 

In general, minimally invasive surgical procedures have shorter recovery periods than traditional open surgery. This is due to several factors:

  • Smaller incisions—Instead of an incision six inches or longer, your incision may be as tiny as half an inch.
  • Less time on the operating table—Some minimally invasive procedures are completed in just 15 minutes.
  • Less time in the hospital—You can spend a week or more in the hospital after some traditional surgeries. As a rule of thumb, hospitalization time is cut in half for minimally invasive surgeries, but many procedures are performed as outpatient procedures with no hospitalization at all.
  • Less damage to muscles and tissues—Instead of large incisions and muscles and tendons that are cut so the surgeon can reach the affected portion of the anatomy, minimally invasive surgery limits the exposure of the anatomy and minimizes damage to muscles and tissues.
  • Less blood loss—There can be 90% less blood loss during a minimally invasive procedure as compared to a traditional, open spinal surgery.
  • Fewer complications—Everything from the lower amount of time spent under anesthesia, to less surgical time, to the smaller incision combines to lower the risk of complications of minimally invasive surgery. Additionally, minimally invasive surgery is easier to tolerate and considered safer than open procedures, which further contributes to the easier recovery.

 

Returning Back to Work After Minimally Invasive Back Surgery

The following lays out the typical recovery period for some of the most popular minimally invasive spinal surgeries. Remember that every patient is different, so this is just a general guide. When you meet with a spine surgeon, you’ll devise a specific plan that addresses your pain, goals, overall condition, and recovery regimen.

Endoscopic Microdiscectomy—This minimally invasive procedure is often performed when patients are suffering from herniated discs and chronic lower back pain that has not improved through conservative, non-surgical means. Microdiscectomies are performed through incisions that are less than an inch long. Microscopes and specialized instruments are used to create a small window in the bone from which the offending piece of disc material compressing the nerve is removed. Typically, removal is approximately 5% of the disc. This procedure involves very minimal blood loss, is done on an outpatient basis, and is sutureless.

  • You can typically expect to resume light activities and start driving after about two weeks, depending on your pain level and other factors.
  • If you work an office job, you may also be able to go back to work, at least part-time, during this period. More strenuous work and activities will take additional time.
  • Complete recovery is usually achieved within seven weeks to three months after surgery.

Endoscopic Lumbar Fusion (MIS TLIF)—Minimally invasive TLIF often treats conditions like pronounced spondylolisthesis, degenerative disc disease, and nerve compression. It is performed through an incision measuring one inch with no sutures. The disc is carefully removed and a spacer block with bone graft put in place. The vertebrae later grow into the bone graft to create a stable fusion of the two bones.

  • Recovery from MIS TLIF is typically longer and more extensive than microdiscectomy but is still a far shorter and easier-to-manage process than the corresponding open procedure.
  • Patients usually go home the same day of the procedure or spend one night in the hospital.
  • You’ll likely feel almost immediately better after surgery, but don’t let that affect your dedication to the recovery process. Doing too much, too soon, could jeopardize your Follow doctor’s orders during recovery so you heal properly and don’t risk re-injury.
  • You can expect to be back to work and many regular activities within three to six weeks. It will take longer to resume heavy lifting and strenuous workouts.

Direct Lateral Anterior Fusion (XLIF)—Minimally invasive XLIF is another fusion procedure; this one is performed through small incisions in the side of the body instead of through the front or back. XLIF is used to treat conditions including lumbar degenerative disc disease or recurrent lumbar disc herniations, low-grade spondylolisthesis, and scoliosis. This procedure is sutureless.

  • Like with TLIF, many patients’ symptoms are dramatically improved right after surgery. You should be able to get up and walk around the same day as your procedure and may be able to return home without a hospital stay, depending on how extensive your surgery was and your post-operative condition.
  • Full recovery can be achieved in as little as four to six weeks with adherence to your post-surgery plan for proper healing.

Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (ALIF)—Minimally invasive ALIF is a spinal fusion that is performed through a small incision in the front of the body. A small incision is typically made near the belly button. The procedure typically takes approximately 30 minutes.

  • Patients are typically up walking within hours after their procedure, but usually spend one night in the hospital.
  • Depending on how strenuous your job is, you may be cleared to go back to work right away. For more physically demanding jobs, your surgeon will wait until you are further along in the recovery process to clear you.
  • Six weeks is a general milestone when you may be prescribed physical therapy.

Minimally Invasive Laminectomy—This minimally invasive non-fusion surgical procedure is done through an incision smaller than a half-inch and requires no stitches. This is generally done as an outpatient procedure, so there is no hospital stay and it is typically complete in just 30 minutes.

  • Expect to be able to leave the surgical center within an hour after the procedure.
  • Patients can typically return back to work after back surgery within a few days, but heavy lifting, bending, and twisting should not be done for six weeks.

When it’s time to put an end to your pain, contact the DISC Spine Institute, experts in minimally invasive treatments, with the most effective medical procedures to treat and eliminate chronic back pain today. Minimally invasive surgical techniques mean treating chronic back pain is easier than ever. With outpatient treatments, small incisions, a quicker recovery time instead of a long hospital stay – why wait? Call the DISC Spine Institute for more details and rid yourself of chronic back pain once and for all!

 

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