How long does it take to recover from back surgery?
“How long will it take to get better?” is a common question in my St George office. As a chiropractor specializing in joint pain and injury, I deal with people in acute and chronic pain. They are looking for relief, prompt relief. One thing I learned early in my career is that people want to get out of pain immediately. That is why I am so dedicated to my patients, I know that if I deliver prompt relief of their pain, they will refer friends and family to my office.
Today I met a young man with severe sciatica induced from a disc herniation. His pain is interfering with his work schedule and needs to get better as fast as possible. We spoke briefly about his treatment options including surgeries. He asked if he would be better faster with chiropractic care or surgery. The answer is “its a draw. Both can take 4 to 6 weeks The difference is in cost and need.”
There are some critical thoughts that need to be explored when looking at back surgery. Here are a few.
Surgery is an option, just not the first option.
Think of correcting a child who is misbehaving. When we correct a child, we use progressive discipline. We first tell the child “no”, then ramp up the correction to include, time out, penalties, removing toys, grounding, lecturing, taking away cell phone or TV privileges. Most parents use a progressive from of discipline; starting with simple corrective procedures, hoping they work. When they don’t work, then we start bringing out the bigger punishments.
When it comes to fixing your injured back, the same system applies. It is not appropriate to be brash and whip out the biggest gun for the first line of correction. We ought to start small and gradually work up. Some of the first lines of correction are: ice, light activity, short course of pain meds like ibuprofen, stretching, massage, chiropractic care. These are the appropriate things to try first.
If those things have failed then we start looking at more invasive actions like prescription pain meds, injections, minimal invasive procedures, and finally open surgery. Surgery is an option–its the last one.
Jumping into the middle with prescription pain meds and injections is a bad idea.
Involves your surgeon making small incisions or cuts into your back. He will insert small tubes and small instruments into your back. Sometimes, a small camera is used to help visualize the small tissues. Often special xrays are involved to guide the small tools into your spine. There are risks associated with this type of procedure including infection, reaction to the medications and anesthesia, scar tissue fibrosis. The average healing time is about 4 weeks.
Open Back Surgery
This surgery is much more intense. It involves making large cuts into your back and flaying out the large muscles of the spine. Those muscles must be removed in order for your surgeon to get access to the spinal cord and disc. There are usually large scars and prolific scarring associated with this type of surgery. It can take up to 12 weeks to recover from this.
Spine Surgery Recovery Therapy
Regardless of the type of surgery, there will be some recovery time and therapy. Some recovery plans include muscle rehabilitation and exercise therapy. These are the reasons why it takes so long to recuperate after a surgery. You can be in post-surgery rehab for up to 3 months, although most are about 6 weeks long.
By comparison, a typical chiropractic rehabilitation plan is about 3 to 4 weeks. The vast majority of the patients get better within that 4 week window. So when we look at total recovery times, chiropractors beat the surgeons by a few weeks.
The surgery option for back pain can average $50,000 to $85,000 for a common laminectomy for a disc herniation. An average chiropractic treatment plan for the same injury will range from $1500 to $3000.
The important thing to remember is that not all conditions need to have surgery and not all conditions respond to chiropractic care. That is why it is so important to follow the rule of progressive therapy. Start with the conservative procedures. Start with chiropractic. It would be silly to spend the $50,000 on a back surgery when you would have recovered with $1500 worth of chiropractic care. Going the other way is a smart idea too. If you start with chiropractic care and it does not help, you would have only invested $1,500 which is small in comparison to the $50,000. You back surgery effectively cost you $51,500.
Our job is to help you get out of pain and back to health as fast and efficiently as possible. We have specific procedure s and protocols to help you. If we are not able to correct your problem in-house, our office has close relationships with interventional pain management specialists which can offer help and consultation on those more aggressive procedures.
Dr. Andrew White
Chiropractor in St George UT