Mark W. McFarland, DO
As a busy Spine Surgeon, I perform multiple spine surgeries every week. I am keenly interested in helping my patients recover more quickly and with less pain. I use a variety of medications, physical therapy and other modalities to enhance healing and a rapid return to work and daily activities. One of the most important resources that I prescribe for my lumbar spine surgery patients is the lumbar back brace.
You may be familiar with the lumbar support braces that you see workers at Home Depot or Lowe’s wear when they are lifting heavy items. While similar in concept, the back braces that patients use after surgery are high tech devices that are fitted to each patient and are designed to support, protect and stabilize the spine as patients heal.
Medical quality back braces are manufactured for a variety of needs, to help bear body weight and relieve pain for scoliosis patients, to help patients recover from spinal fractures by immobilizing the spine, to provide compression for relief from muscular pain, or to provide protection and limit movement after spine surgery. Today’s braces are made with lightweight polymers and advanced breathable materials that are strong and rigid, but do not add undue stress to the patient with their weight. They are easily adjustable to provide just the right amount of compression and fit for the patient’s body.
When my patient and I decide that lumbar spine surgery is the appropriate treatment option, I have my surgical scheduler fit the patient for their lumbar brace. The patient takes the brace to the hospital and when surgery is completed, the brace is put on before we get the patient up to walk before discharge from the hospital.
I recommend that my post-surgical patients wear their brace whenever they are up walking. Patients do not have to wear the brace when sleeping or even when sitting, although some patients like the extra support and protection that the brace provides while sitting. I make an exception to wearing the brace when standing to take a shower, but standing while not wearing the brace should only be done for a limited time per day while recovering from spine surgery.
Contrary to popular belief, the spine will heal on its own without the use of a back brace. It is also very difficult to “undo” a lumbar spine fusion, as the spine is stabilized with rods, screws and plates. However, as we want the bones of the spine to fuse together, vigorous or excessive movement of the spine is discouraged during the period after surgery. Lifting, bending or twisting during the recovery period can also cause pain. Lifting should be limited to about 8 pounds or as much as the weight of a gallon jug of milk.
Wearing the back brace will help you keep from bending or twisting your spine. It will also remind you that you have just had a major surgery and that you need to rest and heal. If you find your back brace to be uncomfortable, you probably won’t wear it. Let us know if you are having any problems with comfort. We work with many patients who must wear lumbar braces and have plenty of suggestions on how to make your brace more comfortable.
Depending on the surgery and your general condition, you may only have to wear your back brace for two weeks or until your first post-op visit. Lumbar fusion surgery patients will have to wear their brace for a longer period of time, up to three months, especially as they return to work and to normal activities. At your follow up visits, we will x-ray your spine fusion to make sure you are healing properly, and if so, I will release you from wearing your back brace as soon as it is safe to do so.