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Sonoran Spine

Human Spine Evolution: FAQ

How long is the recovery period after spine surgery?

Back surgery recovery time depends on the procedures that were done. If the surgery was extensive, it may take longer to spring back from it. Keeping in mind that everyone heals at a different pace, recovery can take from three weeks to three months to return to normal function.

When do I need to follow up with my surgeon?

A follow-up appointment after spinal surgery should be scheduled at four to six weeks. Of course, if you are experiencing any type of problems, you should consult your physician. They may want to see you sooner.

Will I have any limitations after spinal fusion?

Some loss of spinal flexibility and range of motion can be expected after spinal fusion or other type of back surgery. Your overall health and fitness level, the location and extent of the surgery, and how well you comply with your doctor's post-operative instructions all have an effect on the degree of limitation.

Specific limitations that may be experienced include:

  • Difficulty bending, rotating, and twisting the spine

  • Decreased endurance for physical activity

  • Reduced ability to lift heavy objects

A post-operative rehabilitation plan prescribed by your physician will help you regain as much flexibility and function as possible.

How long can I expect to be on pain medicine following surgery?

Chances are, you will need some type of medication for pain post-surgery. Your doctor may prescribe a strong medicine like a narcotic for the early days of recovery. When the pain becomes more manageable, you can then change to an over-the-counter pain medicine such as Tylenol.

Exactly how long pain medicine will be needed depends on the individual. 

What activities can I do after spinal surgery?

You may resume most activities as soon as you feel up to it. Walking at a pace that doesn't cause pain is the best exercise until you have seen your surgeon for a follow-up examination. At that time, you can discuss your readiness for more strenuous activity.

When can I drive?

Narcotic pain medication includes strict instructions not to operate machinery while taking it. Because of the likelihood that you will experience pain post-surgery, your doctor will send you home with a prescription. When you can manage your pain without narcotics, you can drive. 

When can I return to work?

Returning to work after spinal surgery will depend on several things, with the kind of work you do being one of the most important. For an office job that doesn't involve a lot of movement, a month may be adequate, provided that sitting for long periods is not an issue. If your work involves lifting and lots of physical activity, such as construction, you may need more time.

The type of surgery you had will also dictate when you can go back to work. For example, someone undergoing surgery that requires long fusions of many levels in the spine may need more time away from work than a patient requiring a smaller surgery for lumbar disc herniation.  

A research study conducted through the Sonoran Spine Research and Education Foundation revealed that the majority of patients who undergo spine surgery not only return to work but are able to stay in the workforce for an extended period of time.

When can I travel for work-related reasons?

You may travel as soon as you feel comfortable. You might want to avoid long-distance travel, however, for four to six weeks or until after you've seen your surgeon for a follow-up appointment. Stop the car or get up from your seat to stretch or take a short walk at least once an hour during long trips.


What is Vertebral Anatomy?

The vertebral anatomy of the spine consists of 33 bones, each of which has three parts. The body of the bone keeps it in place within the spine, while the outer star-shaped piece provides stability. The inner arch-shaped part protects the spine.

Additionally, an intervertebral disc can be found between each vertebra so that the bones won't experience painful friction from rubbing together. All 24 cervical, thoracic, and lumbar bones can be moved. The sacrum and coccyx regions, which connect the spine to the hips and tailbone, are stationary. 

Because the human spine evolved to accommodate our bipedalism, these vertebrae are all wider than the ones you would find in an ape's spine. While this allows humans to maintain balance while walking, the bones have less density, and the spine's upright structure requires the intervertebral discs to work harder. This can lead to many chronic pain conditions associated with the lower back, including disc degeneration. Disc degeneration is unavoidable and affects 90% of people who are 60 or older. 30% of people are likely to experience disc degeneration by the time they turn 35 years old. When this happens, the discs can dry out and lose their cushioning abilities.

What Does Bipedalism Mean?

Bipedalism refers to when an organism can move using only two feet. Humans aren't the only bipedal species, but they are the only ones that are capable of maintaining a straight posture. For example, bipedal birds walk and run with their knees bent. Apes and chimpanzees are capable of bipedal locomotion when necessary but usually default to walking on all fours. 

Full-time bipedal locomotion requires our spines to have a S-shaped curve, which has been found on fossils as old as 4 million years. This provides humans with more flexibility and an ideal weight distribution while walking or running. Through evolution, humans gained more muscles in the pelvic floor in place of tails. These muscles keep vital organs supported while we walk, similar to how a tail allows quadrupeds to stay balanced. Because of the way their vertebral anatomy is balanced, humans also have smaller necks compared to other animals. 

What Should You Know About the Lumbar Spine?

The lumbar spine, also known as the lower back, is responsible for supporting the majority of our body weight. Without it, we also wouldn't have the strength to pick up heavy objects. Too much heavy lifting is a common source of lower back strain that manifests in stiffness, burning sensations, and sharp pains. Burning pain in your lower back can also start after a sudden injury or late into a pregnancy. 

When too much strain is put on the spine, the center inside the intervertebral disc will bulge and push against its outer ring. This is what's called a herniated disc. While it can go away on its own, severe injuries might require corrective surgery. If you have a burning pain in both your back and legs, the cause is most likely sciatica. This condition is named after the sciatic nerve in your spine, which can become pinched after too much pressure is placed upon it. Both sciatica and herniated discs can cause pain while you're standing or sitting. 

If you're experiencing a lower back injury, consult with a spine specialist to determine what's causing the problem. While healing, you should apply ice to the affected area and avoid strenuous physical activity for a few days. You can use over-the-counter painkillers and maintain good posture throughout the day to alleviate symptoms. Once most of your symptoms have subsided, you can start to strengthen your lower back with stretches and other exercises.