After exhausting all of the alternative treatment options for scoliosis, we decided that surgery was the best option for our daughter Natalie, who was 14 years old at the time. She had her scoliosis surgery in April 2013. I am happy to say that Natalie went through the surgery like a champ and recovered incredibly quickly. I believe the reason she recovered so quickly was because we put in a lot of effort to prepare her for the surgery. In this web series on treating scoliosis, I’ve been talking about our experiences. Here, I want to share our experience with how we prepared for scoliosis surgery so hopefully your child can recover just as easily.
Some of the ways we prepared were:
- Emotional Preparation for Surgery
- Physical Preparation for Surgery (exercises)
- Nutritional Preparation for Surgery
Preparing for Scoliosis Surgery Emotionally
When your kid is about to have her back cut open and spine fused together, it is going to be stressful (to say the least!). Even thinking about it brings back a lot of emotions.
I think one of the best things you can do to deal with the emotional aspect of scoliosis surgery is to inform yourself. I know you are already reading mountains of information about scoliosis, and all of it is quite overwhelming. To help you deal with it, make a scoliosis notebook.
In your scoliosis notebook, jot down questions you want to ask your doctor, the names of specialists, alternative treatment options, and details about the surgery. Staying organized will help you feel more in control.
Natalie was 14 when she had her scoliosis surgery, so she was able to understand the details of the surgery, risks, and steps. I didn’t try to hide anything from her and encouraged her to do her own research and write down questions to ask the doctor.
If you have little kids, then I wouldn’t get into the details of the actual surgery – but do tell them what to expect. Explain step-by-step what will happen leading up to surgery (like not being able to eat the day before, having to do blood work, sleeping in a hospital, etc.). Don’t try to sugarcoat it. Saying “everything will be fine” doesn’t alleviate their real fears. Be honest that it is going to be unpleasant, but focus on the positive – like that after the surgery and recuperation is over, they won’t have to do any more treatments or wear anymore braces (if you’ve been bracing).
Exercises for Preparing for Scoliosis Surgery
Before deciding on scoliosis surgery, we tried many alternative treatments – including exercises for scoliosis. The good news is that these very same exercises can also help your child recover from the surgery faster.
The healthier your body is before having scoliosis surgery, the easier you will recover from the surgery. There is a mountain of evidence to support this. Most of the studies are for hip and joint surgeries, but it also applies to scoliosis surgery. Patients who went through “pre-hab” before surgery had:
- Reduced need for in-patient rehab
- Faster recovery time
- Less pain
- Less mental stress
In one study that looked specifically at scoliosis surgery, subjects who performed pre-operative exercises showed significant better results with the 6 Minute Walking Test (6MWT) and its variables: distance walked, heart and respiratory rate, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, peripheral blood oxygen saturation and Borg scale.
How exactly does exercise help you prepare for scoliosis surgery?
Part of it is due to strength. Stronger muscles will be able to recover faster than weak muscles. Exercise also boosts the immune system, meaning your body will be able to heal faster. A stronger immune system also means less inflammation, so you will experience less pain after the surgery.
As Daniel Rooks, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, says, “The benefits of exercise before surgery are very clear: The more you can do for yourself physically before surgery, the better off you will be.” (Source)
Finally, don’t forget that exercise can help combat stress – and thinking about a major spinal surgery is very stressful! By exercising to prepare for the surgery, you will feel more calm and in control. (Source)
How do you start exercising to prepare for scoliosis surgery? Fitness and Wellness News gives these recommendations:
- Start exercising at least 6 weeks before the surgery
- Start slowly! This is not the time to strain your body!
- If you are already exercising, consider increasing the workout’s intensity, duration, or frequency
- Consider yoga for scoliosis. It is good for strength, flexibility, and preparing the mind for surgery
See my post on exercises for scoliosis which will give you ideas on how to proceed.
Nutritional Preparation for Scoliosis Surgery
Nutrition isn’t just important after the surgery, but before it too. Like with exercise, the healthier your body is before surgery, the faster it will be able to recover.
When you have surgery, it puts an intense amount of catabolic stress on your body. Your body responds with inflammation, and will use up nutrient stores to help it recover. If you don’t have enough nutrients in your body before surgery, then you are going to be depleted post-op, and this can weaken the immune system and increase the risk of complications, especially infections.
Considering this, it is no surprise that studies have found that malnourished patients have a much greater chance of mortality than patients who were nourished before surgery (10x greater!). Before you freak out at the word “mortality”, bear in mind that the study wasn’t on scoliosis patients. Most surgery patients tend to be elderly and have already long suffered from health issues. But it goes to show how important nutrition is for recovery from surgery. (Source)
I like how Doctor David Evans of Ohio State University said it:
“Surgery is like a sport and we have to be the trainers. If you’re not well trained, if you’re not ready for surgery, you’re not going to do well.” (Source)
Pre-Surgery Super Foods
Bone broth is my all-time favorite superfood. I love it so much that I even wrote a book about it (which was partially inspired by Natalie’s experience with scoliosis). It is called The Gelatin Secret and you can get it here.
Bone broth is a great source of minerals which you will need to prepare your body for surgery, it strengthens your gut, and boosts your immune system. Most importantly, bone broth is rich in collagen (gelatin) which is what your muscles, tendons, and bones need to heal after surgery. This is the absolute best thing you can eat leading up to scoliosis surgery!!! You can make your own bone broth easily and for very cheap. If you don’t have time to make bone broth, then you can supplement with gelatin instead. I’m talking about REAL gelatin – not those chemically-made ones you find in the supermarket. I like this brand of gelatin.
Antioxidants are important both pre- and post-op. Antioxidants will boost your immune system, reduce inflammation (and thus reduce pain), and speed up tissue healing. Vitamin C foods like lemons, oranges, and kiwi are a good place to start. Don’t forget about other antioxidants though. Greens like kale, spinach, and broccoli are great sources of antioxidants, and they also contain the mineral cofactors which are needed to utilize antioxidants.
You need to strengthen your gut before scoliosis surgery to help you absorb nutrients you need. Also, it is common practice for doctors to give patients an antibiotic before surgery to prevent infection. The antibiotic will kill off healthy bacteria too, which can lead to an imbalance in your gut flora. The painkillers and anesthetic that doctors give before and after surgery are also tough on the digestive system, so probiotics will help a bit with that.
Bear in mind that about 80% of our natural immunity resides in our guts, so gut health is incredibly important part of pre-op nutrition. (Source)
Eat probiotic foods like kombucha or lacto-fermented foods. You can also take a probiotic supplement. I like this probiotic.
Omega 3s, such as the fatty acids DHA and EPA, are incredibly important for reducing inflammation. By consuming more of these fatty acids, you can “shift the production of cytokines away from those that stimulate inflammation.” Less inflammation means faster healing and less pain after surgery. The fatty acids will also make cells and mitochondrial membranes resistant to oxidative stress, which can alleviate tissue damage. (Source)
Wild caught salmon is a good source of fatty acids. While you are at it, you will want to reduce your intake of Omega 6, which contributes to inflammation. One simple way to do this is to stop using cheap cooking oils which are high in Omega 6s like canola oil and soybean oil. Instead, use coconut oil or real butter for cooking.
There is a direct link between protein status and wound healing, so make sure you have enough protein leading up to your surgery. Protein can also help your muscles recover faster after the surgery. If you get protein from beef, chicken etc, now is (especially) the time to choose grass-fed. Why? Because meat from grass-fed animals has a much better Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio than grain-fed meat, which is important for reducing inflammation among many other benefits. (Source)
As I talked about in my post about nutrition for scoliosis, vitamin K2 is incredibly important for bone health and healing because it delivers calcium to where it needs to go in the body. Fermented foods are good sources of vitamin K2 (and also great for gut health). Quality dairy products also contain K2. Because Natalie doesn’t tolerate dairy well, I supplemented her with this brand of vitamin K2.
The Day Before Surgery, you may want to…
- This is a great time to have your teen take a long shower and thoroughly wash their hair (it’ll be a while before they have anything more than a sponge bath to prevent the scar from being infected).
- Follow the doctors guidelines for what they’re able to eat or drink and until what time (they’ll need to be fasting for the surgery).
- Get a great night’s sleep: chances are you’ll be getting up early and surgery is a heck of a marathon for your child’s body so being well rested is a good idea.
- Relax. It’s a stressful situation for sure but try to stay as calm as possible in order to be the best possible support for your child.
- Don’t forget to take care of yourself! Pack snacks for the hospital and anything you think you’ll need or want to have with you since you’ll both be staying for several days.
Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you or a loved one had scoliosis surgery? What tips would you add for preparing for scoliosis? Please comment below!>
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