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How to Survive Waiting for Your Spine Surgery During the COVID-19 Crisis by Backernation ft. Jaclyn Fulop

As COVID-19 swept across the United States in mid-March, hospitals rushed to reprioritize their care focus. Taking an all hands-on deck approach, surgeons were forced to postpone elective procedures to ensure the availability of empty beds for coronavirus-stricken people. This turn of events left back surgery patients in a lurch—their surgeries were indefinitely postponed. Even when elective surgeries are opened up again, it may be several months before your surgery can be rescheduled.

For patients caught in a surgical holding pattern, we asked back and spine surgeons and other health care practitioners how you can endure the wait. Here’s what she had to say.

Prehab with Care

Right now, the world may be on hold, but your mobility, pain, and balance issues are not. The current pandemic of COVID-19 should not interfere with patients’ ability to consult with their physical therapist and receive care integral to their rehabilitation, especially if they are postponing a very much needed surgery.

Proper prehab is very important. We are sending out updated home exercise programs to patients who are in need or inquire about options. Many of these people would like to stick with a few stretches to do on their own through the day to get them through this hard time until these social distancing restrictions are lifted, and they can move forward with their scheduled surgeries.

Additional recommendations for home care before surgical intervention (things to know for self-care at home and modalities which can be self-administered):

The use of Kinesio Tape is helpful with injuries. If applied correctly the tape  will lift the skin, slightly increasing blood flow to the area of injury.  Blood flow brings healing nutrients and oxygen to the injured tissue. 

Strengthening and exercise. While stretching is important for reducing injuries,  strengthening is a crucial component to preventing an injury from  occurring and during the prehab processes. With proper strength training  (under the guidance of a licensed PT–virtual PT can work for this), the  body will not be so susceptible to overload from repetitive motions which  can cause inflammation. Exercising regularly can stimulate the body to  produce natural pain relievers called endorphins.

Over the counter anti-inflammatory or NSAIDs can reduce swelling or inflammation to relieve minor aches and pains.

Use a home TENS unit. This can be helpful and reduce elbow pain by delivering small  electrical impulses through electrodes. TENS is a noninvasive method for  relieving pain

Eating  healthy, staying hydrated, and complying with your home exercise program until you can get your surgery is important and has many positive effects  on the body improving overall energy levels and mood.

Get fresh air and exercise. These have so many positive effects on the body mentally and  physically.  I also would recommend trying not to nap too much throughout the day.

Focus on your prehab routine. Prehab is always recommended before surgery and leads to a better prognosis and  quicker recovery time. This is a great opportunity to continue proper  prehab and strengthening before going under the knife.

Proper ergonomics matter. As more  and more people are working from home it’s important to remember to stay in a proper ergonomic position to avoid musculoskeletal problems. You do  not want to get into a situation where you are having additional issues  besides your injury that you will be needing surgery for. If working from  home you want to invest in the proper office chair with adjustable  features such as back rest, arm rests and lumbar support otherwise you  likely to develop neck, upper back and low back discomfort.

Improper economic setup can wreak havoc on the body. Sitting on a couch using a  laptop causes the body to slouch forward. Over time, forward head posture  can lead to muscle imbalances as the body tries to adapt and find ways to  hold the head up. Some muscles become elongated and weakened, whereas  other muscles become shorter and tighter. Overtime, this will cause a  decrease in the cervical spine curvature resulting in neck pain which can  include degeneration, bulging or herniated discs, pinched nerves and poor  posture.

Stretch to improve posture. Proper stretching will improve posture, align the shoulders and restore the curvature in the spine while preventing musculoskeletal imbalances as  well as aches and pains.

Adjust accordingly. I  always tell my patients that they should adjust their position every 20 minutes. A trigger point or knot (a taut band in the muscle that becomes  tender to touch) can take 20 minutes to form if the body stays in a  static position. So get up and move and you are less likely to have aches  and pains. The more regularly you stretch, the better it is for your  body. The home exercises we usually prescribe to our patients include 4-5  stretches that we recommend performing 2-3x a day for optimal health and  wellness and to improve function.

Jaclyn Fulop
Board Licensed Physical Therapist
Founder of Exchange Physical Therapy Group

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