Blood clots are an important consideration for patients who have common back problems. One reason you need to educate yourself about blood clots is that they can arise from long periods of immobility.
For instance, if you have a back problem that keeps you in bed or in a chair for most of the day, you run the risk of a blood clot forming and traveling to other parts of your body. The second reason is that blood clots are a risk of any surgical procedure.
In surgery, veins and tissue can become damaged, and this can lead to a clot. In addition, general anesthesia slows the progression of blood throughout your body, increasing the risk of clotting.
If you have a diabetic condition that causes abnormalities in your blood sugar level you need to carefully manage your insulin levels after surgery.
Called deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, by medical professionals, these clots generally tend to form in the legs. This is because the calves and thighs do not have an active mechanism to propel blood back towards the heart. Blood flow from the legs is powered by the flexion of the gastrocnemius, or calf muscle, and the hamstrings. When you do not move your legs, such as on a car trip or in surgery, the blood can pool and eventually form into a clot.
Complications of Blood Clots
You may not think that a tiny blood clot in your leg could be so dangerous, but they can be deadly if left untreated. The most common complication from a blood clot is a pulmonary embolism. When the clot forms in the leg, it doesn’t stay there. It can travel to any part of the body, and it most frequently travels to the lungs due to the physiology of the human vasculature.
Signs of a pulmonary embolism include a sudden and unexplained difficulty catching your breath. You may also experience chest pain that seems to become worse with deep breaths or coughing. Dizziness, fainting, and anxiety are other symptoms that manifest with this condition, though they are not as definitive as shortness of breath. Finally, you may experience a rapid heartbeat, sweating, or coughing up blood.
Signs and Symptoms of a Blood Clot
Sometimes the symptoms of a blood clot are obvious, but they can also be subtle. Swelling and redness in your leg, especially the calf, can indicate that a blood clot is present. In fact, the swelling may be so severe that there is a measurable difference between legs. Pain is the next sign of a blood clot. It usually starts in the calf, and it can feel like a muscle cramp or charley horse. It will usually spread up the leg with the same cramping feeling.
Redness is another key symptom to note. Often, the coloration will start at the site of the clot and run up the leg in a red streak. Warmth is also apparent over the site of the clot, and it can be many degrees warmer than the opposite leg.
If you have recently had surgery, been on a long flight or car trip, are pregnant, or have been immobilized for a long period, you are at greater risk for this type of clot, and it is important to recognize the early symptoms before a pulmonary embolism develops.
Preventing Blood Clots after Back Surgery
After you have back surgery, it is important to follow an anti-thrombosis routine. Even if you haven’t had back surgery but have been laid up in bed with pain, you should try to include some of these steps into your daily routine. Similarly, even minimally invasive back surgery has a small risk for clots, and you should heed your doctor’s advice about how to prevent them.
If you stay overnight in the hospital, you will likely have compression stockings to wear. In the past, these used to be elastic stockings that would massage the leg and help move blood back towards the heart. Recently, however, technology has developed socks that massage your calves with the periodic rapid inflation of a pillow.
You may also take a prophylactic injection of a blood thinner in some cases. This is merely to prevent clots from forming, and it is usually only administered in the hospital. The most important part of the post-surgical routine is exercise. To prevent blood clots after back surgery you should get out of bed frequently, even if it is just to move to the chair.
If you are home, you should walk around your living space to encourage blood return. Your doctor may teach you exercises to stimulate blood flow such as flexing your foot and pulling your knee to your chest.
Back surgery is generally a set of safe procedures, but every surgery carries risks. If you need back surgery, the professionals at BASIC Spine can help determine what procedures you need, and we can help you to mitigate your risk factors from blood clots. We would like to answer your questions about blood clots forming and help you avoid these potentially dangerous occurrences.