One of the many benefits of weight loss surgery is improving joint pain and alleviating lumbar spine symptoms (pain, functional status, disability index). Post-operative back pain is, however, widespread after gastric sleeve and Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery. Dealing with bariatric surgery back pain is challenging to manage without understanding the root cause. The article will dissect the underlying factors that trigger back pain and practical methods to find fast relief!
What causes back pain after weight loss surgery?
Several reasons impact back pain following bariatric surgery. Here are some of the most popular triggers:
- Trapped gas: During surgery, the abdominal area is inflated with gas to create separation between the skin and organs so the surgeon can move equipment around more effectively. In the weeks following the surgery, the residual gas tends to accumulate within the upper shoulders and neck, leading to vagal nerve irritation or back pain.
- Loss of fat cushion: The loss of abdominal fat disturbs stability and causes your spine to work harder. Muscles have likely endured prolonged stress from supporting excessive weight over many years. The sudden ability to relax can lead to reactive lower back pain until the muscles adapt to your new body.
Research conducted by Harvard Medical with a two-year evaluation following RYGB (Roux-en-Y gastric bypass) revealed a 66% improvement in back issues. After weight loss, only 6.25% of patients had low back pain during the 6 to 12-month post-operative follow-up visit.
- Increasing physical activity: Transitioning from a sedentary lifestyle to a physically active post-surgery can cause unpleasant bursts of joint pain. It will require some time for these structures to adapt to the higher level of activity.
- Uncomfortable hospital beds: Mattresses can cause back pain for bariatric patients since most hospital beds are uncomfortable as they are not bariatric-specific. Hospital Azar, designed by Mexico Bariatric Center®, will have new specialized bariatric beds that are more conforming to the patient’s body and allow more comfort.
How can I treat back pain after bariatric surgery?
Upon discharge from the hospital, you will receive comprehensive guidelines for your weight loss surgery recovery and important precautions to remember. Additionally, you will likely be prescribed pain medication. However, there are a few tips and tricks past patients recommend to alleviate upper and lower back pain.
Important: Consult your doctor before utilizing any home remedies, herbal preparations, medications, or anything listed below.
- Rest – The best solution is to obtain adequate sleep and rest following the surgical procedure to recover. The back pain is exacerbated by heavy physical exertion, and it resolves with rest.
- Walking – It is crucial to maintain muscle strength through light exercises such as walking. As soon as two or three hours after bariatric surgery, you must start walking to prevent inflammation in the abdominal wall. Walking will also dissipate the build-up of gas.
- Go to a chiropractor or massage therapist – Your body is used to carrying excessive weight and as you lose, it shifts and changes the structure of your bones. Some patients go once a month for about 6 months.
- Warm Compresses or Shower – Help relax the contracted muscles and increase blood flow.
- Pain Medication – Consider over-the-counter pain medication (Do not take NSAIDs). It keeps damaged cells from making and releasing prostaglandin which means that the brain won’t get the pain message as quickly or clearly.
- Gentle Stretches – Gentle stretches promote blood flow to the muscles, including those in your back. This increased circulation can help reduce inflammation and promote healing. Remember to have good posture throughout the day.
- Vitamins – Take vitamin D and calcium supplements to prevent hypocalcemia (reduced blood calcium level). Vitamins aid in healing inflamed nerves, which is one of the causes of lower back pain.
How long will the back pain last?
Sharp shoulder or back pain is short-term and resolves within weeks (sometimes days) the more a patient can rest. These pains can arise before 8 weeks usually when a patient is not getting enough downtime. If the pain is intolerable, associated with a fever that won’t break, or severe nausea and vomiting, it’s appropriate to be seen by a local medical care provider.
When should I be concerned about back pain after surgery?
If the pain continues beyond the typical recovery period of 4 to 6 weeks, it doesn’t automatically indicate a negative outcome, as recovery varies from person to person.
It’s appropriate to have a discomfort evaluated by a local provider for a physical evaluation if the discomfort is insufferable, if there is a fever over 102 that will not break, or if there is significant nausea and vomiting.
Can I continue to use Advil or Tylenol as a form of pain control?
Advil, all NSAIDS, are to be stopped 1 week before and after surgery. After surgery, occasional use of NSAIDS is not restricted, but chronic long-term use is to be avoided as NSAIDs increase the risk of gastric ulcer development and a bleeding ulcer can be fatal.
When is it okay to go to the chiropractor and the massage therapist?
Massage and chiropractic care are not restricted at any time, and patients must use their best judgment with proceeding.
After undergoing weight loss surgery, patients may experience a shift in their center of gravity and experience back pain. This discomfort can be due to various reasons, including trapped gas, loss of fat cushion, increased physical activity, hospital bed, etc. Patients can alleviate this discomfort by getting sufficient rest, walking, going to a chiropractor, and more! Given that each patient’s recovery is different, it is important to ask healthcare professionals for advice when needed.