What should I expect after spinal fusion?

If a spinal fusion has been recommended for you, then you may be wondering what to expect following your surgery.  Planning for your post-operative recovery is crucial to the success of the procedure. Each person’s surgery and condition is different, but there are some general principles that can be applied.

How long will I stay in hospital?

If your spinal fusion surgery is performed using conventional techniques, you may expect to stay in hospital for 5-7 days. If you receive the procedure using Minimally Invasive Spinal Surgery techniques, you will be able to go home in 2-3 days.  Your recovery time and level of pain experienced will also depend somewhat on the exact type of procedure that you have had.

What happens when I go home?

For all types of spinal fusion, the first 3 months are critical to the success of the fusion.  During this 3 month period, it is important to avoid activities that could place the bone graft at risk. These activities may include heavy lifting and carrying, twisting and bending of the lower back. High impact activities such as running should also be avoided in this time.

Sometimes a brace is used to support the back in this early recovery time. The type of brace used will depend on the type of surgery and your surgeon’s recommendations.

What can I do to assist my recovery after Spinal Fusion?

Physical Therapy is essential to good recovery after your spinal fusion. Your Physical Therapist will advise you on the appropriate level and type of exercise to carry out in each recovery stage. Your rehabilitation program will be aimed at improving your mobility, strength and fitness, whilst keeping your bone graft site safe from harm.

As you move into the later stages of the rehab process, the intensity of your exercise will slowly increase. Once the graft site has set and the fusion in complete, it is important to begin to put appropriate stress on your back. Bone is a living tissue that reacts to stress by growing stronger, so exercising your back as advised by your therapist and surgeon will ensure that your spine fusion becomes as strong and secure as possible.

For most people, the resumption of vigorous activities and sport can begin after around 6 months. Full recovery following a spinal fusion can take up to 2 years, especially if there has been significant involvement of the nerves prior to surgery.  Despite this, most people who have this surgery will experience a dramatic improvement in their symptoms and will enjoy a rapid return to their activities and pre-injury lifestyle.

What should I expect after spinal fusion?
Article Written by
Dr. Kaushik Das is a spinal surgeon in New York.