What to Do When Spine Surgery Is Delayed

As the coronavirus pandemic slows down spine surgery, your wait doesn’t have to be idle.

If you’re like Americans who had a surgical procedure canceled, postponed or rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re likely feeling anxious and uncertain. And if you’re someone who had a spine surgery procedure scheduled, you’re likely also in pain. Unfortunately, health care facilities in America had to make this drastic decision for the greater good of our entire population, but I promise you, this is temporary. As many states in the nation are now rounding the corner on flattening the coronavirus hospitalization curve, many are preparing to begin performing surgery again, carefully.

Though this may mean a backlog of patients to work through in a limited number of operating rooms, your wait doesn’t have to be in vain. If you’re awaiting a needed surgical procedure, there are things you can do right now to set yourself up for the best possible outcome when your time arrives.

One thing that the nation’s “safe at home” orders have forced our collective society to do is slow down. Perhaps you’re someone who was always on the go, or you commuted to a stressful job. If you’ve now found yourself working from home and not heading out to do the many things you used to do, utilize this time to rest while you prepare for surgery. Prioritize quality sleep, and if you’re experiencing a back pain episode, take a break from whatever it is you’re doing that might be making it worse. Perhaps at no other time in our history are the majority of Americans able to minimize otherwise necessary distractions and allow themselves to focus on wellness. Use this time to your advantage and get all the rest you can. Though it may seem like a passive activity, adequate rest is necessary for healing.

While rest before spine surgery is necessary, this might also be a time when you learn some gentle exercises that can help you before and after your spine surgery. Of course, the caveat here is that you should always speak with your doctor before beginning a new fitness program. Once you’ve cleared it with your provider, you could ask your physician’s office if they have post-op exercises they might be willing to share with you now, while you await surgery. Use this time to learn those movements, which may offer the added benefit of also helping you prepare your body for surgery.

Emotional support is also essential as you await surgery. This is true at any time, but our current circumstances have understandably heightened our collective anxiety, which can lead to stress on your mental health and on your spine. Gather a (virtual, for now) support system of friends and loved ones who are compassionate and empathetic to what you’re going through. Having the right people in place to help you navigate your emotions about surgery, and the delay, can make a world of difference to your perspective on the situation.

More than anything, I want spine surgery patients to know that waiting for your procedure to be rescheduled isn’t a permanent condition. The medical community had to do what was necessary to ensure the safety of our non-COVID-19 patients while our hospitals cared for those individuals. Although your surgery may be rescheduled under conditions that seem a little different than what you anticipated, please know that changes were made with your safety in mind.

I fully understand that asking you to be patient while you are uncertain and in pain is a difficult request. But it’s essential to try. Implement the tips outlined here to take an active role in your spine health, and you’ll likely feel much more in control – and hopefully in less pain – while you wait.

Neel Anand, MD