PreHab Before Back & Spine Surgery: Why it's a Must!

If you've got a back or spine surgery on the books, like a laminectomy, discectomy or spinal fusion, it can feel very overwhelming. Similarly, if you don't have back surgery scheduled but know it's inevitable, it can feel just as scary. One important way to combat pre-surgery jitters is to understand the massive role that you play in your outcome.

Knowing that you can positively affect your surgery outcome through active preparation is a game-changing truth. You single-handedly play the largest role in determining the success of your surgery.

So, how can you prepare for an upcoming back surgery? Well, it can be summed up in just one word: PreHab.

What is PreHab for Back Surgery?

What is PreHab? PreHab can be defined as actively preparing for surgery (physically, mentally, and environmentally) to lower risk, improve the procedure outcome, and to speed up recovery time. The more proactive you are in priming your body and mind for surgery, the faster, easier and safer your recovery will be.

Everyone knows that after a major injury or surgery, like back, hip, knee or ACL, you will need to participate in physical therapy and daily exercises to recover. The difference between "PreHab" and "ReHab" is that PreHab is preemptive. In other words, it's everything that you do before surgery to better yourself and make recovery easier. PreHab before a back surgery includes: physical therapy, preparing your environment, losing weight, lowering health risks from secondary conditions etc.

Why Prehab Before Back Surgery?

It's been proven that patients who PreHab before elective surgery do better than their peers in recovery. These patient groups are discharged home faster, and report regaining function and "returning to normal" more quickly.

If you're still not convinced that PreHab is the future, keep reading! We're breaking down why PreHab is an integral part of the whole surgical episode.

5 Reasons to PreHab Before Back Surgery:

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Having a laminectomy, discectomy, spinal fusion or other back surgery? Here's why you gotta PreHab:

1. Control pain: A well-rounded Prehab program will give you the tools to mentally and physically to deal with pain leading up to surgery. Pain can get you in a bad headspace for surgery. Through breathing techniques taught in PreHab, guided meditation, physical exercises, and other opioid-free pain management education, you can have the tools to uphold your the right multimodal pain management techniques for you.

2. Lose weight: Losing weight offloads a lot of extra pressure from your joints. If you're overweight, lowering your BMI by losing extra pounds will also cut down your risk on surgery day. Being overweight can put you at a greater risk of: infection, poor wound healing, blood loss, blood clots and more. PreHab before surgery will focus on building a healthy lifestyle with diet and exercise changes that can result in weight loss.

Read more about why your surgeon has told you to lose weight before surgery.

3. Physically prep your body: Be guided through the exercises that will improve your sciatica, nerve damage, herniated discs, lower back pain, spondylosis, scoliosis, and other debilitating back conditions. By strengthening the muscles around your spine and back, improving flexibility, extension etc., before surgery, you can better support the affected area for a faster recovery.

4. Manage anxiety/ stress: Surgery is scary and stressful. In addition to physically preparing for surgery, it's important to get into the right headspace before surgery. PreHab will help you mentally prep for surgery, tackle stress, deal with the mental components of pain, and get in the mindset for healing.

5. Recover Faster: Patients who prepare for surgery recover faster and better. PreHab sets patients up for a safer, less stressful at-home recovery. PreHab followed by a continued ReHab program helps patients find their "new normal" faster.

When is the ideal time to PreHab before surgery? In an ideal world, you'd have 1-3 months to PreHab before surgery. Some bad habits that put you at greater risk during surgery (like smoking) must be broken 2-3 weeks before the procedure to have any affect. In saying this, any PreHab surgery prep is better than none!

What Should PreHab for Back/Spine Surgery Look Like?

A well-rounded PreHab program before back or spine surgery (like PeerWell) should touch on all of the proven ways to improve surgery outcome and speed-up recovery. A lot of PreHab focusses just on injury recovery or just on the physical side of surgery prep. In other words, PreHab shouldn't just focus on getting your body primed for the stress of surgery and recovery. A great Prehab program should also help you learn to control pain, lose weight, manage stress, and ultimately, recover faster.

PeerWell has developed PreHab and ReHab program for back/spine surgery that takes patients from the day surgery is scheduled into their recovery. The daily smartphone-enabled program tracks progress, and even adapts to meet each person's needs. For example, if you're a smoker, the program work with you to carry out smoking cessation and lower your complication risk on surgery day.

Here are some of the lesson topics in PeerWell's Back/Spine PreHab program (available on smartphone or desktop):

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  • How to Get the Best Results from Your Back Surgery

  • How to Eat to Control Your Blood Sugar

  • How to Plan Better Snacks

  • Sciatica Exercises for a Herniated Disc

  • Lower Back Strengthening Exercises

  • Core Strengthening Exercises

  • Guided Mindful Breathing to Manage Pain

  • Dealing with the Anxiety of Waiting

  • Understanding Nerve Blocks

  • Prepare Your Home

  • Track Your Mood Test

After surgery, a follow-up ReHab program that builds on the fundamentals of PreHab is the proper next step. A back/spine ReHab program will guide you from the recovery room through the first 90 days of your recovery. Click here to learn more about PeerWell's mobile at-home PreHab and ReHab program.

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Hi, I'm Grace. I write and research about hip and knee replacements, PreHab before orthopedic surgery & ReHab. Content advised or co-authored with physicians (MD) and orthopedic surgeons (OS).

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