Recovering fully from scoliosis surgery can take up to a year or sometimes two depending on how old you are when you have the surgery. The spine takes about a year to fuse and during this time it's important not to do anything that may damage the fusion as it takes such as impact sports or heavy lifting.
The problem with scoliosis surgery recovery is that it is very slow and it's easy to get frustrated that things aren't improving - I get very frustrated at times!
But it's important that when this happens to just look back a few months and remember how many more things you can do now. With scoliosis surgery recovery you often see progress month by month rather than week by week.
Things DO get better believe me, I've been there :)
Scoliosis Surgery Recovery - Journey Home from Hospital
My dad picked me up from hospital to take me home, which was about an hours journey by car. I had been shown how to get in and out of a car safely by the occupational therapist at the hospital but it was still very uncomfortable getting in.
My tip: take plenty of cushions with you in the car! I had two behind me and one in front of me for support. I was also in my brace which was really uncomfortable but I think helped make me feel more supported.
The journey was painful, I felt EVERY bump believe me! And getting out of the car was just as bad. I still find it awkward getting in and out of cars now but that's for another post!
Scoliosis Surgery Recovery - Recovery at Home
When I got first got home after scoliosis surgery I think I realised for the first time that I was a bit taller than before surgery, all the kitchen cabinets and the sink in the bathroom looked lower and it was all very strange. I also remember trying to sit on the sofa and just couldn't as it was waay too low!
Luckily before I left the hospital an occupational therapist had my parents measure the heights of all our sofas and my bed and recommended that we got a higher chair for me to sit on (like the one I had by my bed in hospital - I called it a 'Grandad Chair.')
My parents also bought me a table like this:
I could then sit on my 'grandad chair' to have my meals or go on my laptop.
So just a bit of advice really, you will probably need a decent chair with a straight back (plus LOTS of cushions) as there is no way you can sit or lounge on a sofa for a good few months!
Another really handy piece of equipment during recovery from scoliosis surgery is a grabber:
This was invaluable to me as it gave me back a little bit of independance. I used it to pick things up off the floor if I dropped something as I was not allowed to bend for 3months, and actually I still use it now as once you have a spinal fusion it's awkward bending down anyway - even once you've recovered!
I also had a raised toilet seat (this is a must as you can't get low enough without it at first!), crutches and a stool to sit on to wash myself as I couldn't get into our shower at first (it's over the bath). All of these things were provided by the hospital.
The best thing to do before you buy anything is check with the hospital what they will provide you with first as they all tend to be different.
Scoliosis Surgery Recovery: First Few Weeks at Home
The first few weeks post scoliosis surgery at home were difficult, I won't lie. You may need someone around to help you for at least the first few weeks - my mum took two weeks off work to look after me.
Just to give you an idea of what it's like for the first couple of weeks, my daily routine would consist of:
- Getting out of bed - This was a chore in itself! To get up was very difficult and I could no longer just sit up to get out of bed like I used to. Instead I had to 'log-roll' out which is basically just rolling onto my side and sitting up (I still do this now one year later as it's easier!!) and then supporting myself on my crutch/someone to stand.
- Having a wash - my mum would help me with washing for the first few weeks as I struggled to do this alone. She would set up my perching stool (provided by the hospital) by the sink in the bathroom and put all the towels down on the floor and I would basically use this stool to sit on and have a body wash. I wasn't allowed to get my scar wet for the first couple of weeks at home (your surgeon will tell you when it's ok to do so) so it was a PAIN washing my hair during this time. I used alot of dry shampoo I can tell you!! I can recommend stocking up on dry shampoo and also taking some to the hospital with you so you can freshen up a bit.
- Getting Dressed - I was able to do this by myself when I was discharged from hospital but it was and still is a struggle. Try putting trousers or tights on without bending your back - not easy! I used to put the clothes I wanted to wear high up on a shelf or something so I could reach them without bending.
- Painkillers, Painkillers and more Painkillers! I was put on tramadol, paracetemol, antibiotics and piritin (to stop the itching that the tramadol caused) when I was first discharged from hospital. I took my painkillers in the morning at about 6am, lunchtime, tea-time and before bed. I was put on antibiotics as the doctors were worried that I had an infection at the top of my scar as it had started to widen, thankfully I didn't! So the antibiotics were more of a precautionary measure.
- Sleeping - I spent alot of the day in bed sleeping for the first few weeks. Mainly because the painkillers just knocked me out! But it also felt better on my back to lie down than sit up. I could only lie flat on my back for the first few months as any other position felt too uncomfortable. In fact I still find it uncomfortable lying any other way now, which is weird as I could never sleep on my back before surgery.
- Eating/Drinking - I would get up and sit on my 'grandad chair' in my brace (with about 3 cushions behind me!) by the side of my bed to eat my meals, using the table that I mentioned above. I would try and increase the amount of time I spent sitting each day but to start with, it was difficult to sit for longer than an hour or two and then I would need to lie down. If I needed a drink when I was lying down I couldn't just sit up, I would have to 'log-roll' and actually sit on the side of the bed. To solve this issue I mainly used beakers with bendy straws so that I could drink lying down! I would recommend stocking up on bendy straws for the immediate post surgery stages. You will also need someone to make meals for you for the first few weeks as you can't lift anything or bend to get into cupboards etc, if this isn't an option then frozen/pre-maid meals that you can just heat up in the microwave are ideal.
- Walking - I tried to walk for a little each day to keep my strength up - this is very important. For the first few days at home I used my crutches to walk around the house for about 20 minutes, then I would need a lie down / sleep. It's amazing how doing so little can really tire you out after this surgery. After about 4-6 weeks though I was walking round the block without my crutches for about an hour a day and my mum used to walk with me. Luckily it was summer so it was a good time of year to go out for a walk. I couldn't believe how quickly I improved though and with my brace on I could soon walk pretty much like I used to before surgery, at a normal pace, by about 6 weeks post op.
It's important to remember though that I was 24 when I had the surgery, teenagers tend to go back to school part time after about 6-8 weeks.
I kept myself busy during this time with DVDs, magazines, daytime tv, Haribo ;), puzzle books, and the Internet. I even took up cross stitching and baking and became quite good at making cupcakes! :-)
I also spent alot of time on a scoliosis support forum speaking with others that had been through the same thing. This really helped me as it stopped me from going mad with worry if I felt a new pain or twinge as I could see others were experiencing exactly the same!
You will feel new pains and the odd twinge or "electric shock" type pain, which are usually the nerves and muscles "waking up" and it's normal to experience this after this type of surgery.
It's also normal to be in pain for quite/uncomfortable for quite a while after the surgery, it's very frustrating but it doesn't mean there is anything wrong, your body just needs time to recover.
I know I've said this already but it's important to keep moving as much as you can to prevent circulation problems. I say this because at about 6 weeks post op I experienced extreme swelling in my right leg and ankle and when I pressed my fingers into my ankle it left an indent.
I went to the dr who was worried because I had just had surgery that I could have a blod clot! Needless to say I was terrified and had to have scan on my leg and blood tests immediately.
Thankfully I didn't have a blood clot, instead I had oedema caused by me being immobile for so long. To reduce your risks of blot clots and swelling in the legs post surgery it's important to keep getting up for regular walks, doing simple leg exercises, drinking lots of water and you could even wear some flight/circulation socks. (They do provide you with these when you are in hospital to wear in bed but I didn't get any to take home, might be worth asking about this before you are discharged.)
Feeling Down Post Surgery
It's really easy and I would say completely normal to feel down after this surgery. It's a huge thing to go through, a massive change to your body and at times I found it all quite hard to deal with. I definitely suffered from the post surgery blues - wondering what on earth I'd done to myself and whether it was the right thing to do.
I was worried that my back would move and go back to how it was before surgery. I was constantly taking photos of my back and comparing them to see if there were any changes - it became an obsession.
If something looked slightly different on one of the photos or was taken from a different angle I would really work myself up with worry. From reading stories on the forum I could see it was normal to feel this way, other people suffered from this type of paranoia too post surgery. And I guess it made sense to feel so worried after all I'd been through.
I also got fed up of the pain, stiffness, not being able to do things for myself, not being able to pick things up that I had dropped and having to sit up 'straight' all the time with my brace on. I longed to lounge on the sofa like the rest of my family as at that point I couldn't see myself ever being able to again. But of course, at around 3months post op I could sit on the sofa again - and it was the best feeling ever!! :-)
Hope this helps, please feel free to contact me or comment below if you have any questions about scoliosis surgery and the recovery and I'll do my best to help.
If you're feeling a bit blue post surgery, check out some inspirational quotes that helped me feel a bit more positive during my recovery.