What to Know About Recovering from Spinal Fusion Surgery

Recuperating after spinal fusion surgery—a procedure in which two or more vertebrae are permanently joined into one solid bone—can be a challenging process if not approached correctly. Fortunately, your spine surgeon will provide you with specific instructions that will help make the postoperative period a bit more comfortable. Even more importantly, your surgeon’s recommendations will help protect the long-term success of your back, spine, and neck.

From postoperative activity recommendations to the warning signs that warrant a call to your spine surgeon, here’s everything you need to know following your spinal fusion surgery.

What’s the Average Recovery Time After Spinal Fusion Surgery?

A procedure of this nature can typically take anywhere from three to six months to fully heal, including the various types of physical therapy that each patient must undergo. The road to recovery usually evolves in this way:

  • Postoperative care in the hospital: The period of rehabilitation in the hospital normally lasts between two and five days.
  • Recovery at home: Once at home, you’ll likely spend the first four weeks resting and beginning to reintroduce various movements back into your regular routine. The rest of your recovery time will likely be spent performing physical therapy and resuming more demanding activities.
  • Physical therapy: After about four weeks of rest and recovery, you’ll begin physical therapy. This typically lasts about three months and helps you increase the range of motion and strength in your back and surrounding muscles.

Every recovery timetable is different, but in any case, it’s important to understand that the recovery process will be lengthy. Your age, overall health, and physical condition affect how quickly you’ll heal and be able to return to your usual activities. You’ll be feeling slightly better every week after the surgery and likely make a full recovery after three to six months.

What Can You Expect Just After Spinal Fusion Surgery?

After your procedure, you can expect to stay in the hospital for between two and five days depending on your recovery and post-surgical abilities, health, and activities. Before you’re cleared to go home, you’ll need to be able to control your pain, get up and walk on your own, and empty your bladder. If you’re struggling to perform any of these basic functions after your surgery, you may need to stay in the hospital a bit longer. You may also be sent home with a walker or other home equipment depending on your physical capabilities after the procedure.

A physical therapist can help you learn how to use proper body mechanics. One technique you may practice is “log rolling,” meaning that you keep your back straight and avoid twisting when rolling from side to side and onto your back. This is important to do when changing positions or getting out of bed to avoid further damaging your back, spine, and neck.

How Can You Take Care of Yourself at Home Following Spinal Fusion Surgery?

Once you get home after the surgery, it’s not uncommon to feel a sense of panic. After all, you no longer have your doctors, surgeons, and medical professionals by your side. However, it’s important to stay calm and understand that the road to recovery—while sometimes lengthy and uncomfortable—will soon allow your symptoms and comfort level to improve as you gain strength and confidence in your movements. Following your doctor’s recommendations will ease your mind and greatly reduce your pain.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Rest: It takes time for your muscles and nerves to heal so it’s important that you not do too much to irritate your back. You’ll likely be on pain medication, but expect your discomfort to reduce as the days and weeks progress. Avoid lifting heavy objects or performing any kind of strenuous activity.
  • Take short walks: Resting for too long, on the other hand, can create blood clots in your legs and other complications. To stay healthy, take short and calculated walks around your house every two hours that you’re awake. As you become more comfortable over time, you can gradually increase the amount of time you walk. Always ask your doctor for their recommendation before making any changes to your routine.
  • Keep a healthy diet: What you put into your body can have a tremendous impact on your healing and recovery from spinal fusion surgery. Make sure to consume essential vitamins and minerals as well as foods that are rich in calcium.

In general, it’s important to stop and rest if you feel even minor pain, not lift anything over fifteen pounds, and avoid driving for at least two weeks after your surgery. Give your doctor a call if you notice an increase in redness or swelling, flu-like symptoms, numbness, or difficulty controlling your bowels or bladder.

After about a month, your doctor will likely recommend physical therapy, which typically lasts for about three months and will be customized based on your capabilities and recovery abilities. Before you know it, you’ll be able to return to a happy and healthy lifestyle.

Consider the Experts at New Jersey Spine and Orthopedic

The medical professionals at New Jersey Spine and Orthopedic will help you every step of the way as you look to manage your pain and recover your functionality. We’re a team of highly-trained back surgeons who are well-versed in minimally invasive surgery and proper recovery techniques.

Our award-winning team of board-certified neurologists, neurosurgeons, orthopedic specialists, and physicians utilize state-of-the-art equipment, innovative technology, and a patient-centered approach to help you on the road to recovery. Our experts are sure to find a treatment program that suits your specific needs. Give us a call at (866) 272-9271 or complete our contact form today!

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