Time to Recover from Spinal Fusion and Tips to Shorten It

Spinal fusion surgery involves fusing your vertebrae together. The time to recover varies from person to person. Luckily there’re ways to speed up the process.

Spinal fusion is a surgical procedure that involves uniting (fusing) one or more of the vertebrae of your spine. It is quite like welding in the industry, but the surgery doesn't join your vertebrae together immediately. The recovery time for spinal fusion may vary from person to person, but your surgeon will place bone grafts around your spine and let your body heal the grafts, which usually takes several months. It is quite like healing your fracture, so you need to be prepared to wait for a few months until you've fully recovered.

How Long Does It Take to Recover from Spinal Fusion?

You have to keep in mind that spinal fusion recovery time is usually longer than other types of spinal surgeries. It is important to stay at the hospital for 3-4 days followed by a few days in a rehabilitation unit. You will not be able to return to your normal activities after spinal fusion for several weeks. Your surgeon will keep an eye on how your bone heals after surgery and then advise you accordingly.

In most cases your bone won't heal enough even after 3-4 months of surgery. After this, you can return to your normal routine but you will still have to consult with your doctor about bone healing and things you cannot do at least for another 5-6 months.

What to Expect and How to Fasten Spinal Fusion Recovery

It is common to experience pain and slight discomfort after your spinal fusion surgery – the discomfort you experience is usually greater than what you feel with other types of spinal surgeries. Although you will have to wait for some time for spinal fusion surgery recovery, you can take certain postoperative pain control measures to make things manageable.

1.        Medications

You can start with oral pain medications as well as intravenous injections. Sometimes, you can use patient-controlled pumps to control your pain – the procedure involves administering narcotic pain medication with the press of a button.

2.        Take Rest

Sometimes, you will have to stay at home for a few weeks at least. Your spinal fusion recovery time will depend on the type of surgery as well as the type of work you do. If you have a sedentary job and you're young and generally healthy, you may have to wait for 4-6 weeks before you go back to work. It is important to take time off work (6 months or more) if you're in a physically demanding occupation.

3.        Use Braces

You may have to use a brace for some time after your spinal fusion surgery. You can choose from a variety of braces considering what suits you more. Some of these braces are quite restrictive and limit motion, whereas other braces only provide some support and are less restrictive in nature. Be sure to discuss it with your surgeon to determine if you really need a brace and if you do what type of brace will suit you the most. Your surgeon will consider certain factors related to your surgery to identify the best brace for you.

4.        Try a Rehabilitation Program

Your doctor may also recommend a postoperative rehabilitating program after your spinal fusion surgery. The program may include cardiovascular conditioning program and some back strengthening exercises. Sometimes, a rehabilitation program is customized to improve your spinal fusion recovery and help you get back to work soon. Several factors, such as your age, anticipated activity level, overall health, and extent of surgery, will determine if you really need to follow a rehabilitation program or not.

Tips to Better Recover from Spinal Fusion

  • Start working with a physical therapist. It is a good idea to work with a physical therapist after approximately four weeks of your surgery to improve recovery. This therapy usually continues for three months even after your recovery to make it easier for you to return to your normal activities. This will help greatly to regain your strength.
  • Avoid hazardous movements. Don't strain your back and avoid lifting heavy objects at least after a few weeks of your spinal fusion. You can drive after a couple of weeks of your recovery, but it is a good idea to wear a neck brace to keep your head in correct position all the time.
  • Eat healthy, balanced diet to accelerate your healing and improve recovery time. Be sure to add food rich in essential vitamins and calcium to your diet. Don't eat unhealthy foods and avoid nicotine because it can keep your bone graft from fusing properly.

Spinal Fusion Recovery Complications

Although spinal fusion is generally a safe procedure, it may sometimes lead to certain complications. The most common complications include blood clots, infections, bleeding, inadequate wound healing, respiratory problems, reactions to anesthesia or medications, and stroke. Sometimes, the complications are rather severe such as the infection in the vertebrae, damage to a nerve, persistent pain, and blood clots in your legs that can travel to your lungs and be lethal.

It is also important to bear in mind that spinal fusion may not fix all types of chronic back pain issues. Sometimes, you may even experience additional problems because the surgery changes the way your spine works. The complications are more common if you're inactive, obese, or are in poor physical condition.

When to Contact Your Doctor

You should contact your healthcare provider immediately if you notice swelling on your ankle, calf, or foot with redness below the ankle. The swelling at the edge of your wound, fever, drainage or pus/blood, and shaking are the signs of an infection. Contact your doctor immediately to treat your infection. Also, seek immediate medical help if you have shortness of breath, chest pain, difficulty urinating, and back pain that is becoming worse with time.

Precautions and Exercises after Spine Surgery:

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