Returning to Work After Back Surgery

While it’s understandable to want to get back to work as soon as possible following spinal fusion, Los Angeles patients need to know it’s equally important to avoid doing anything that might reinjure their spine and impede the healing process. If you’re curious about what factors may influence the ability to get back to work after surgery, the Journal of Neurosurgery recently published results from a study of 5,000 patients that provides some answers.

Working in Low-Impact Occupations

The study involved patients who had elective lower back spine surgery for issues related to degenerative disc disease (DDD). Not surprisingly, the study found that individuals who worked in low-impact occupations were more likely to be able to return to work following this type of surgery.

Being Male

Men were more likely to be able to return to work after elective surgery for DDD, according to the published research. However, a Swedish study involving data from than 4,000 patients found that women did not fare worse than men after lumbar fusion surgery.

Being Employed While Injured

Patients already employed at the time of the procedure were also likely to return to work. Unemployed individuals may have less incentive to seek work, or they might fear the jobs they are qualified to do will cause their back pain to return.

On a related note, a University of Gothenburg study found that more than half of the 97 individuals studied had a fear of movement (kinesiophobia) after surgery for a herniated disc. This fear continued for more than a year after surgery for some patients.

Working in a Physically Demanding Job

Researchers also observed several factors that make it less likely that patients will return to work following disc-related elective surgery. At the top of this list is having a physically demanding job. Also, patients with a valid workers’ compensation claim and liability insurance pertaining to disability weren’t likely to get back to work soon after spine surgery.

Having Higher Pain Ratings

Post-surgery, patients are often asked to rate their pain, usually on a 1-10 scale. Individuals with a self-reported higher pain rating were less likely to get back to work, according to the study results.

Being Diabetic

Diabetics are also less likely to return to work after spine surgery. The reason may be because diabetics tend to have underlying health issues that can affect post-surgery healing, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated or fluctuating glucose levels
  • Circulation issues

Preparing for a Return to Work After Spine Surgery

Your return to work after spine surgery may be less stressful if you take some precautions. If you have certain duties that are more physically demanding, ask your boss if adjustments to your duties can be made. If this isn’t possible, assistive devices like back braces and lumbar-support pillows for work that involves sitting for long periods may be helpful. Further ease your transition back to work by:

  • Getting plenty of water and making healthy meal choices
  • Following your doctor’s guidelines for activities you can safely do
  • Easing back into your normal work routine
  • Maintaining a healthy weight to avoid stressing your spine
  • Knowing when to take a break if you start to feel pain

With some types of lower back surgery, return-to-work rates range from 26 to 36 percent. However, about 90 percent of spinal fusion patients are likely to get back to work post-surgery. Your ability to do so will depend on several factors, including the type of procedure performed and how well you respond to physical therapy and other rehab efforts. If you have concerns about how you’ll be able to function at work after spine surgery, talk to your Los Angeles spine surgeon about precautions specific to your occupation you may be able to take. If you need to consult with a spine surgeon about your potential need for surgery, call The Spine Institute today at 310-828-7757.