Spinal fusion is often performed to stabilize vertebrae by fusing them together. Spinal fusion surgery is used to weld together cervical, thoracic or lumbar vertebrae. Recovery from spine fusion surgery can be a lengthy process. Depending on the type of spinal fusion performed and the patient's overall condition, patients may need months to fully recover.
What to Expect
Spinal fusion surgery patients may be hospitalized for several days. They may undergo a series of tests to monitor blood. Patients may also be given pain medications intravenously, by injection or orally. The patient will get help learning the proper way to get in and out of bed and walk. Depending on the type of spinal fusion surgery performed, patients may be fitted with special braces designed to immobilize them during the healing process.
After Hospital Discharge
Spine fusion patients are often discharged from the hospital within a few days of surgery. They may be given prescriptions for oral pain medication. These medications may include narcotics. Recovery in the first days immediately following spine fusion surgery often involves a great deal of bed rest, though patients are often encouraged to begin walking short distances. Patients who have undergone lumbar spine fusion surgery are often advised not to bend, twist or lift heavy objects. They may be advised not to return to work for a period of time.
The First Month
For the first few weeks following spine fusion surgery, patients will continue to take pain medications, as needed. Often the narcotic pain medications are replaced by over-the-counter analgesics, like acetaminophen. Patients may begin gradually walking longer distances as the weeks progress, increasing strength in their back. Care must be taken not to stress the area of the surgery, as the bones are in the process of fusing.
One Month to Three Months
A post-surgical checkup may be scheduled about six weeks after spinal fusion surgery, to check the progress of recovery. X-rays may be taken to determine if the fusion process has begun. Medications may be given to ease any ongoing discomfort the patient is feeling. Spine fusion patients may be allowed to return to work as they continue the recovery process. Patients may continue a regimen of walking short distances. They may be given permission from their physician to resume driving and other day-to-day activities.
Three Months and Beyond
At the three-month mark of spine fusion recovery, patients may be given a new exercise regimen to help them build strength and muscle tone in their back. Rehabilitation or physical therapy may begin. In the months following spinal fusion, the patient may continue to have regular x-rays and scans to determine the progress of the bone fusion, which can take up to 18 months to occur.