Spinal fusion is a procedure that involves fusing together painful vertebrae with the goal of having them heal into a single, solid bone.
Those electing to receive a spinal fusion should do so after all other treatments have been explored. The procedure will not fully “fix” your back or provide complete pain relief, but it will prevent motion in the painful portions of your spine returning and allow you to have some function and normalcy.
Recovery times can vary greatly between patients and factors such as age, weight, physical condition, diet, and health habits are considered.
After a spinal fusion surgery, patients can expect to stay in the hospital for two to three days while you’re monitored by your medical team. A highly invasive open back surgery requires that patients are monitored to avoid infection, maintain circulation, and reduce stiffness. Once at home, you can expect a recovery time of three to six months.
While in the hospital, patients learn wound care, pain management, and proper ways to move, including how to get in and out of bed.
At home, wound care continues and rest becomes a vital element of recovery. Physical therapy is introduced approximately a month post-op and continues throughout.
Walking is key to a successful recovery. Patients are encouraged to walk very short distances and gradually “move the goalposts” throughout the recovery process. Within the first two months, muscles begin to heal and bone repair. During this time, learning to maintain good posture will create a habit that will help you successfully navigate the recovery period.
Around months three and four, your physical therapy is focused on completing exercises that strengthen the spine and surrounding muscle groups without a full range of motion. This creates a support system for spine through core strength.
Your last two months of recovery introduces light weight training. You’re still likely to feel pain, stiffness and muscle soreness but focus on continued movement. Your therapist will also work on introducing more range of motion exercises.
Patients can resume all activities without restrictions in month 6. Be smart and gently ease your back into everyday activities.
- Smoking. Cigarette smoking has been shown to inhibit lumbar spinal fusion and to adversely affect outcomes. Resist smoking until your surgeon clears you.
- Fatigue. Expect fatigue to the point of exhaustion for up to 4 months post-op from deconditioning, anemia and situational depression. These all go away in time.
- Changes in Weight. Diminished calorie intake due to poor appetite and weight gain from diminished activity can be expected after surgery. In time, your appetite will improve and with exercise and movement, your weight will stabilize.
Your recovery may not be the same as a friend or coworker who has had the same procedure. That noted, be sure to maintain good lines of communication with your medical team to prevent use injuries that could cause setbacks to your recovery timeline.