If you're facing the prospect of spinal fusion surgery, you're probably concerned about how long it will take you to recover. This type of surgery takes a long time to heal, since your back won't be completely stable until your bones have had time to fuse to the graft. Knowing what to expect is important so you can make arrangements for time off from work and to prepare your home to recuperate. Recovery time depends upon your general health, age, and the number of grafts you have done. Here is what you can expect.
A Hospital Stay Is Usually Required
Spinal fusion surgery is usually done in a hospital with an overnight stay required. You may even need to stay for a few days until you are ready to be discharged. You can expect to be on some sort of pain control initially after surgery. This could be pain pills or injections. Although you will be in pain after the surgery, you'll be encouraged to sit up, stand, and walk as soon as you can. Moving is important to your recovery and it can help prevent blood clots and pneumonia.
A Rehabilitation Clinic May Be Needed
If you had several vertebrae fused, or if you have other medical conditions that may slow your recovery, you may need to go to a rehabilitation facility after the surgery. A rehab stay may be necessary if you live alone and will be unable to care for yourself. The advantages to transitioning through a rehab facility is you will have skilled nursing care and daily physical therapy. You'll get the assistance you need to make sure you can be mobile and regain your strength.
Activities Will Be Limited
Your vertebrae will fuse to the bone graft slowly over a period of months. Until that happens, you'll need to limit vigorous activity. You won't be able to lift heavy objects or make twisting motions with your back. Those limitations could affect your ability to work. You may need to take sick leave anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Your doctor will give you an estimate of how long you'll need to take off work, but that could change depending on how quickly your bones fuse. If you have a sedentary desk job, you'll be able to return to work quicker than if you do heavy physical labor. You will have ongoing follow up visits with your doctor to assess your rate of recovery. During these visits, your doctor will let you know when you are ready to resume driving, lifting, and working.
Light Exercise Is Necessary
Although you have to limit your activities, you shouldn't become sedentary, because that leads to muscle weakness and other complications. Your doctor will probably prescribe a back brace to support your back well enough that you can walk and engage in other light forms of physical exercise. A physical therapist will teach you how to go through your daily activities without putting strain on your back. You'll also be taught the right exercises that stretch and strengthen your back muscles to provide extra support to your spine.
Incision Care Is Required Too
Spinal fusion recovery involves healing of the incision as well. Your doctor will provide you with specific information on how to care for your incision so you can avoid infection. You'll need to change the dressing every day and keep the area dry. Monitoring for signs of infection such as soreness, redness, and fever is important, so you can get immediate treatment if necessary.
Recovering from a spinal fusion procedure is a long process, but you won't necessarily be limited the whole time. Expect several weeks until you can resume most of your usual activities and several months before you heal completely. Following the instructions of your physical therapist and doctor is very important because the fusion places stress on the vertebrae above and below it. If you don't strengthen your back and use proper body mechanics, you may eventually develop additional back problems caused by the fusion. For more information, talk with an experienced doctor at a clinic like Highlands Neurosurgery, P.C.