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After Back or Joint Surgery: Caring For Your Loved One

Your loved one has been complaining of back or joint pain, and has finally taken the plunge and gotten surgery.

Now, they’re back at home and ready for recovery — and they’re looking to you for help.

Supporting your loved one after back or joint surgery is vital. Your support can improve your loved one’s emotional health — and good emotional health has been shown to make orthopedic surgery more successful.

How can you help your loved one recover from back or joint surgery and keep them happy and comfortable in the process?

Food, Glorious Food

The last thing someone recovering from surgery wants to do is stand over the stove and cook.

When you bring food, make sure it’s packed with the nutrients that your loved one needs for optimal recovery.

Fiber: Many pain medications prescribed after surgery can cause constipation, and fiber can be the trick to curing it. Prunes, bananas, apples, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, legumes and spinach are all excellent sources of fiber.

Protein: Protein is important for wound healing and keeping the immune system strong. However, back and joint surgery, can cause someone’s appetite to be suppressed.

Even if your loved one isn’t hungry for protein-rich meals, make sure they get at least some protein with each snack and meal. Eggs, plain baked chicken, yogurt, or low-fat cheese are light, but provide plenty of protein.

Vitamin D: Vitamin D keeps your musculoskeletal system (muscles, bones, and joints) strong, and can help with infection prevention. Too little vitamin D after surgery can lead to negative outcomes, from post-op infections to lower success rates.

Bring your loved one fatty fish, such as tuna or salmon. For the non-seafood lover, go with vitamin D-fortified orange juice, milk, cereal, or yogurt.

Help Manage Medication

After back or joint surgery, medication can be a lifesaver.

To control severe post-op pain, patients are sometimes prescribed opioids (also called narcotics), which are very strong painkillers. Although they can provide some much-needed relief, they also come with a few risks — one of the most concerning being possible addiction to these medications after recovery.

That doesn’t mean that your loved one shouldn’t take opioids if they’re prescribed by a physician. It just means that you might want to keep an eye out for any signs that their opioid use is becoming unhealthy.

Red flags should go up if your loved one takes more than the prescribed amount, tries to get a prescription from more than one physician, or constantly “loses” the medication in order to get a replacement prescription.

One simple thing you can do is buy your loved one a pill organizer. You will both be able to monitor the amount of medication taken. And if your loved one tends to be forgetful, or their memory is a bit hazy after surgery, a pill organizer is a great way to remember to take medication.

And remember to be on the lookout for emergency situations. If your loved one looks or acts intoxicated or sedated, contact their physician immediately, and withhold at least the next dose.

Take the Wheel

After surgery, it can be hard to get around. Your loved one may be in too much pain, or in too much of a mental fog, to drive or take public transportation.

Unfortunately, this can mean not being able to get to important appointments, such as physical therapy, follow-ups with the surgeon, or check-ins with a primary care provider.

These appointments shouldn’t be missed. Not following a prescribed physical therapy regimen can mean slower recovery, or less success in the long run. At follow-up appointments, physicians can monitor patients to make sure their recovery is on track, and that there are no complications. For patients who had complications right after surgery, seeing their primary care provider soon after discharge decreases the risk of being readmitted to the hospital.

If you are available to drive, make sure your loved one knows that you’re willing to play chauffeur to important appointments. If you can’t offer a ride, consider calling them a cab, or giving them a gift card for a ride share service.

Bring Over the Essentials

Want to pamper your loved one, but not quite sure what to bring?

Look no further.

The Post-Surgery Gift Basket

When your loved one is recovering from joint or back surgery, these gifts may be just what the doctor ordered:

  • Silk pajamas: Silk makes it easier to slide in and out of bed or the car. Plus, the soft material won’t irritate the skin.
  • Heating pad or ice packs: The heat and cold these provide will easily soothe aches and pains.
  • Body pillow: This will help your loved one stay in the position that’s most comfortable.
  • Dry shampoo: Your loved one might take fewer showers if showering proves difficult. Dry shampoo will help them still feel fresh and clean.
  • A good book: Recovery often means a lot of sitting in bed or on the couch. And after a few days, TV binges aren’t as exciting as they once were.
  • A sweet treat: As long as it’s approved by the physician, a favorite candy bar or ice cream sundae might save the day.

And of course, it’s always a good idea to ask your loved one what they need.

Offer Emotional Support

Recovery can bring on a flood of emotions for your loved one, from happiness that pain is finally being corrected, to frustration that they can’t do their usual exercise routine right away.

Make sure they know that they can count on you, whether they’re looking for a hug or just to have someone to talk to on the phone.

Since your loved one might not be able to get out of the house for social activities as much as they’re used to, bring social events to them. As long as they’re up for visitors, bring over a group of friends for a low-key game and movie night.


Read More on Back and Joint Pain

Back Pain Surgery: Myths and Facts That Get Back to the Basics
When is Joint Pain an Emergency?


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